iMail for Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clinton Backs U.S Workers in Tanker Debate 

New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton took a strong stand on behalf of U.S. aerospace workers this week when she challenged Air Force officials to follow the law governing major procurement decisions, such as the aerial refueling tanker, and to consider the impact on the U.S. industrial base.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing this week, Michael B. Donley, nominee for Secretary of the Air Force, tried to downplay the domestic impact issue by saying that the aerospace industry is international and that the major corporations all have foreign entities. Clinton disagreed and asked him to respond in writing how the Air Force would honor established domestic sourcing requirements in U.S. law.

“When the Air Force announced its tanker refueling contract award to Airbus A330 last February, I was struck when the spokesperson indicated that the Air Force could not and did not take into consideration the impact of the award on the U.S. industrial base,” said Clinton. “I’m very well aware that we live in an international economy, but I’m also extremely conscious of the impact of decisions made by our government with taxpayer dollars that undermine our competitiveness for the long run and eliminate jobs and thereby undermine technical skill acquisition in a way that I think will come back to haunt us.”

The Air Force procurement program has been under intense scrutiny since it awarded a $35 billion contract for 179 aerial refueling tankers to a consortium headed by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co (EADS). The decision, which sparked nationwide outrage when the Air Force admitted it had not considered the impact on domestic employment, was also rebuked by the Government Accountability Office, which found “significant errors” in the bidding process, including favorable treatment for the EADS proposal.

Columbia Free Trade Resolution Defeated, Again

Support for the deeply flawed U.S.-Columbia Free Trade Agreement continues to diminish, with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) yesterday squashing a resolution that called for the NCSL to support the so-called free trade pact.

Proponents of the Columbia FTA failed to even muster support for a roll call vote during the NCSL’s Legislative Summit in New Orleans due to overwhelming opposition. NCSL is the bipartisan organization serving the legislatures and staff of the states, commonwealths and territories.
The U.S. House voted in April to take the U.S. Columbia Free Trade Agreement out of “Fast Track” status, postponing a vote on the trade agreement indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Columbia continues to be the most dangerous place on earth for union representatives with more than 30 union leaders killed this year – a rate of roughly one a week. The pace of assassinations surpasses last year’s carnage, when 39 unionists were murdered, eleven were victims of attempted murder and 224 received death threats. More than 2,500 trade unionists have been murdered in Columbia since 1986, including over 450 during the administration of current president Alvaro Uribi.

Airlines Lobby for Regulation… of Oil Industry

In an ironic twist, the CEO’s of 12 major U.S. airlines are urging their customers to help lobby Congress for government regulation of the oil industry. Meanwhile, the same CEO’s continue to resist any meaningful government regulation in their own industry.

The current crisis, triggered by outrageous fuel prices, would be easier to manage in any other industry by properly pricing the product to cover at least the cost of providing it to the consumer. Instead, airlines set fares so low that even if every seat on a plane is full, the airline will still lose money on the flight. Airline management has been far too willing to accept losses in an effort to run other airlines out of business.

To their credit, most airlines have stopped talking about senseless and costly mergers. Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines, however, seem oblivious and appear committed to destroying both companies through a merger that will create an unmanageable behemoth with $15 billion in long-term debt.

“If the cost of fuel is cut in half tomorrow, the underlying problems plaguing this dysfunctional industry will remain,” said Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr. “The airline industry is in urgent need for the type of intervention that only the federal government can provide. Consumers, employees and shareholders are all being beaten as airlines fight for survival. Some form of limited, sane regulation is long overdue.”

Chamber of Commerce Aims to Block EFCA

Seeking to preserve an environment that has allowed employers to ignore labor laws and block lawful organizing drives for years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week announced a multimillion dollar campaign to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041).

Claiming to oppose what it calls “labor’s anti-growth agenda,” the nation’s largest business lobbying organization predicted its “nationwide, multimillion dollar effort will galvanize small business owners, workers, community leaders, and citizens to preserve the rights and freedoms of Americans in the workplace.”

Oh, really? Under the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), union organizers face an overwhelming pro-business, anti-worker bias that has allowed corporations to routinely intimidate, harass, coerce and even fire workers who try to form unions and bargain for economic well-being.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations and providing mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes. Most importantly, EFCA would allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.

Swissport Machinists in Montreal Ratify First Contract

Members of Local 2309 in Dorval, Quebec, who are employed by Swissport, have ratified a first collective bargaining agreement that increases wages by more than 20 percent over the life of the three-year accord.

The agreement provides a lump-sum wage increase of 2.4 percent in the first year retroactive to July 2007 and a 20 percent wage increase in the second and third years. Other agreement highlights include: increases to Lean premiums of between 10 and 42 per cent by the end of the agreement; vacation improvements of three weeks after five years of service and four weeks after ten years of service; establishment of recall rights; increased sick days and improvements to work rules and overtime and scheduling language.

The forty Local 2309 members provide ground handling services for United, Air Inuit and Mexicana Airlines at Montréal’s Piérre Eliot Trudeau International Airport.

Health Care Crisis Escalates

Rising health care costs continue to pull down the living standards of middle and low-income families, according to a report released last week by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group.

The report found 42 percent of all adults ages 19 to 64 were either uninsured or underinsured during 2007, up from 35 percent in 2003. The Commonwealth Fund also found 41 percent of adults had medical debt or problems with medical bills, up from 34 percent in 2005.

“New national policies that take a coherent, whole-system, population view are essential for the nation’s future health and economic security,” the report states. Click here to read the Commonwealth Fund’s National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance.