iMail for Thursday, January 11, 2007

House Passes Overdue Minimum Wage Hike

The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. The measure, which passed by a 315-116 vote, would give many low-wage workers their first raise in nearly a decade.

The minimum wage is currently at its lowest real value in 51 years and an increase would positively impact nearly 13 million Americans.

While House Democrats succeeded in passing a “clean bill”, the measure will now head to the Senate where many Republicans will work hard to include tax breaks for small businesses in their version.

“Minimum wage workers are men and women of dignity, and they deserve a fair wage that respects the dignity of their work,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). “ I urge my Republican colleagues in the Senate to do the right thing.  Put partisan politics aside.  Don’t load up the minimum wage bill with poison pills.”

If the bill manages to make it through the Senate without any tax breaks attached, it will then head to President Bush’s desk. Bush, who has said he only supports a minimum wage increase that includes tax breaks for small business, would then have to decide whether to give America’s lowest paid workers their first raise in nine years or exercise his first veto. 

Blondin Named Aerospace Coordinator

District 751 President and IAM Law Committee member Mark Blondin will draw on a wealth of local and national experience in his new role as IAM Aerospace Coordinator, a position he will assume upon the retirement of senior Aerospace Coordinator Dick Schneider.

Currently serving his second term as president and directing business rep of the 45,000-member District 751 in Seattle, Blondin, 47, will join Aerospace Coordinators John Crowdis, Ron Eldridge and Frank Santos overseeing more than three dozen IAM-Boeing agreements in 22 different locations around the country.

“It was a tough decision, but I believe it’s a great opportunity,” said Blondin, who thanked the members of District 751 for their support during his tenure as president, which included the month-long strike at Boeing in 2005. “It has been a privilege and an honor to lead District 751 for the past six years.”

IP Tom Buffenbarger applauded Blondin’s decision. “Mark’s combination of youth and experience are exactly what this union needs in the Aerospace Coordinator position. Mark’s experience at the local, district and national levels make him the ideal candidate to carry on the work of retiring Aerospace Coordinator Dick Schneider,” said Buffenbarger. “I’m confident the members at Boeing and throughout the Aerospace Department will benefit from this important appointment.”

Labor Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Monday, January 15, marks what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 78 th birthday. The day, now a federal holiday, honors the man who fought for justice and equality in America.

Among the many events planned across the country, the IAM and other unions are gathering in Houston, TX, for this year’s annual AFL-CIO King Day celebration, which will include workshops, community service projects and a parade.

“When Dr. King was alive, he believed the labor movement and the civil rights movement were one and the same,” said IAM Executive Assistant Diane Babineaux, who leads a contingent of IAM members and representatives to Houston. “His life and his spirit continue to inspire us today.”

IAM Headquarters will be closed January 15 in honor of Dr. King. Stay tuned to iMail for a full report upon conclusion of the King Day Celebration. 

EPI Offers Alternative to Dead End Trade Policies

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) today unveiled the first components of its “Agenda for Shared Prosperity,” a comprehensive program designed to provide policymakers with workable alternatives to the failed conservative economic policies that insist that the best thing government can do is enrich the wealthy.

Starting today, the EPI project will issue regular briefing papers addressing health care, retirement security, work and family, globalization, and other critical issues. As part of the program’s first day activities, Virginia Democratic Sen. James Webb delivered a keynote address followed by “Globalization That Works for Everyone,” a study by former EPI President Jeff Faux.

According to Faux, the current form of globalization has concentrated its benefits among those at the top of the income and wealth ladder, while the costs have been paid by working families at the middle and the bottom. “America urgently needs to reverse its course with a comprehensive strategy that matches the scope and depth of globalization’s challenges,” said Faux who called for a “strategic pause” that would allow for debates and discussion and give citizens and leaders the opportunity to address the question of America’s role in the new global economy.

TSA Screeners About to Win Union Rights

More than 40,000 airport screeners moved a step closer to attaining collective bargaining rights this week, after House lawmakers passed a bill to follow through on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

The measure, which passed 299-128, included a provision that repeals a portion of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that gave the Bush administration authority to terminate collective bargaining for employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by President Bush, airport screeners at the TSA will gain bargaining rights, appeal rights and whistle-blower protections.

Recommendations from the 9/11 Commission include screening of all cargo containers shipped to the U.S., distribution of more federal aid to states based on risk instead of population and more money to improve emergency agencies’ communications gear.

Democrats Put ‘Labor’ Back in Labor Committee

One of the first acts by Democrats when they took control of Congress on Jan. 4 was to restore the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to its original name, the Committee on Education and Labor. A symbolic move, and nowhere as important as pending legislation on the minimum wage and prescription drugs, the name change signifies the resurgence of labor unions and their allies in the 110 th Congress.

‘Labor’ was dropped from the committee’s official name in 1995, when the Republicans took over Congress in 2005. The committee’s name was changed again in 1997 to the Committee on Education and the Workforce by then chairman Rep. William Gooding (R-PA). Like many house committees under Republican leadership, the Education and Workforce Committee was guided by an anti-labor animus and failed to respond to the many of the issues facing workers during the past 12 years.

The new chairman, George Miller (D-CA), is a key sponsor of the recently passed House Minimum Wage legislation and held “virtual” hearings during the last session of Congress that allowed hundreds of workers to testify about the impact of lost and reduced pensions at bankrupt auto companies and airlines. 

Union Membership Up by 60,000 in Canada

Union membership in Canada grew by 60,000 last year, up 1.4 percent compared to the year before, according to statistics just released by Canada’s Human Resources and Skills Development. This was the second consecutive year of increase after a series of declines that began in 1998.

In the U.S., however, unfair and un-enforced labor laws allow employers to intimidate, harass and fire workers for trying to join unions. Report after report has shown that many more workers in the U.S. would belong to a union if given the choice.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), bipartisan legislation to give workers a faster, safer route to collective bargaining rights is gaining support in the current Congress. The EFCA would not only strengthen penalties for companies that coerce or intimidate workers, but also allow for card-check recognition, a process that lets workers form unions based on majority support in a workplace rather than a prolonged election. Employers frequently use the current election process to mount aggressive union avoidance campaigns.