GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty this week in Washington, D.C. to three counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. Abramoff later pleaded guilty in Florida to charges of fraud and conspiracy. In both cases, Abramoff agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and provide evidence about members of Congress and the Bush administration on whom “Abramoff lavished luxury trips, skybox fundraisers, campaign contributions, jobs for their spouses, and meals at Signatures, the lobbyist’s upscale restaurant,” reported the Washington Post.
President Bush announced he would give back $6,000 in direct contributions from Abramoff, even though Abramoff was a GOP “Pioneer,” someone who raised more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.
Abramoff’s lobbying power reached the highest levels of government and now exposes the blatant hypocrisy of legislators who say one thing in public but do the opposite behind the scenes. In the 1990s, according to ABC’s 20/20, Abramoff worked for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific including the Island of Saipan. The island was notorious for a loophole in its immigration laws that allowed Chinese businessmen to operate sweat shop garment factories outside U.S. labor law and still use the “Made in USA” label.
Almost 11,000 Chinese workers brought to Saipan were forced to sign secret agreements, illegal in the United States, forbidding them to participate in any religious or political activity, ask for a salary increase, fall in love or get married. Women who got pregnant had to either get an abortion or lose their job.
In 1997, Abramoff engineered a trip for then House GOP Majority Whip Tom Delay and his family to visit the island over the New Year’s holiday. He toured some of the factories and attended a dinner in honor of the outgoing Saipan Governer, who DeLay said was a “shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party” and “leading the world in the free market system.”
Back in Washington, DeLay, a strong anti-abortion advocate, successfully blocked efforts in Congress to change U.S. immigration laws to close the loophole for Saipan. Click here for more information and video of DeLay’s trip to Saipan.
“Is Vice President Cheney coming to the Harley-Davidson plant to announce a change in the administration’s trade policies that have cost so many U.S. workers their jobs?” asked Midwest Territory GVP James E. Brown about a planned visit by the Vice President to the legendary motorcycle maker’s facility in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Maybe the Vice President is here to reassure workers at Harley that they will not be the next victims of tax and trade policies that actually encourage companies to troll the globe for the cheapest labor and the lowest environmental standards,” said Brown.
“Despite Bush administration policies and the lure of cheap labor overseas, the IAM and Harley-Davidson are successfully preserving a brand name and a product that truly deserves to be called an ‘American classic,’” explained Brown. A spokesperson for the Vice President claimed the factory is a good example of how the president’s economic policies help America’s workers and businesses.
“It would be more fitting for the Vice President to acknowledge this administration’s epic record of failures than to take credit for a success story that has flourished in spite of the administration’s policies, rather than because of them,” said Brown.
West Virginia’s Sago Mine, where 12 workers lost their lives this week has been issued hundreds of health and safety violations, and questions are being raised as to why the mine was allowed to continue operation.
According to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the number of safety violations and incidence of injuries at Sago Mine is higher than average. The mine was cited for failing to properly enact a “mine ventilation plan” nine times in the past year, and cited seven times for failing to properly conduct a “pre-shift examination.”
“The mine workers look at the pre-shift examination as one of the most important activities that the mine operator has got to perform,” said Tim Baker, deputy administrator for health and safety at the UMWA. “We look at that as an absolutely crucial first step of any mining operation.”
Noting that none of the fines issued at Sago approached the current maximum of $60,000. Baker said that the fines levied didn’t match the seriousness of the violation. The highest proposed fine issued by the government last year was $440 for one of the ventilation violations. Many of the violations prompted $60 fines.
“If I go down the street in Washington, D.C., at 10 mph over the speed limit, I’m going to get much higher fine than that,” Baker said.
Lawmakers were critical of the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) regulatory philosophy under the Bush administration which calls for “partnerships” between mining companies and the MSHA rather than financial penalties and sanctions.
“MSHA’s clear track record under Bush of undermining safety enforcement and going easy on industry cronies has had tragic consequences for the families of coal miners in Sago and elsewhere,” said Rep. Major R. Owens (D-NY), senior Democrat on the workforce protections subcommittee. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) joined Owens in calling for Congressional hearings of mine safety.
Miller said the MHSA has been downsized by 170 positions since 2001, Congress has cut MSHA’s funding by $4.9 million, and that the Bush administration has appointed numerous officials to the agency who have close ties to the mining industry and who have rolled back a number of regulations aimed at improving mine worker safety.
Bankruptcy Section 1113(c) negotiations with Northwest Airlines (NWA) resumed on January 4, 2006 in Washington, DC. Prior to the meeting with NWA representatives, Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr. spoke with the District 143 Negotiating Committee and pledged the full support and resources of the IAM to the Northwest Airlines membership
Northwest Airlines filed for bankruptcy in September and is seeking deep cuts in employee wages and benefits in addition to creating subsidiary companies to perform thousands of jobs currently being performed by NWA employees.
“Northwest management must understand that there will be no Northwest Airlines without the Machinists Union membership,” said District 143 President Bobby DePace. “Management’s plan to subcontract IAM jobs to an imaginary subsidiary will not work, and the future of this airline depends on how long it takes them to figure this out.”
Prior to the start of this week’s negotiations, the IAM presented Northwest with alternatives that would preserve as many high-quality jobs with reasonable benefits and secure pensions as possible while still achieving the cost savings necessary for the company to successfully emerge from bankruptcy.
Separately, Northwest asked the bankruptcy court to extend their exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization from January 12, 2006 to July 13, 2006. Northwest’s extension request does not affect the Section 1113(c) trial, still scheduled to begin on January 17, 2006.
Friday, January 20, 2006, is the cutoff day for applications to the March 26-31, 2006 Basic Web Development school at the Winpisinger Technology Center in Hollywood, Maryland. Those interested in attending the school should contact the IAM Communications Department immediately at 301-967-4520.
Retired District 112 Business Rep Cecil Wright died Tuesday, January 3, 2006, in Jacksonville, Florida. Wright retired in 1981 after 15 years of service to the IAM. No services are planned.