iMAIL for Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tell Congress Now: No Tax on Health Benefits!

Even more important than the current debate over the need for health care reform, is who will pay for that reform. An alarming option under consideration is eliminating or capping the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health coverage. While President Obama has said he does not favor this approach, there are some in Congress who want to pursue this course.

Take action now and send a message  to your Representative and Senators urging them to oppose capping or eliminating the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health coverage: Eliminating the tax exclusion would undermine employer-sponsored coverage by removing a key incentive that employers have for providing coverage.  In addition, taxing benefits would encourage younger and healthier workers to pass up employer sponsored coverage and seek less comprehensive coverage.  The loss of these workers would significantly drive up the cost of coverage for older and less healthy workers.  It would also increase their tax burden.

Machinists Women Applaud Secretary Solis’ 100 Days

A delegation of IAM women activists, led by Executive Assistant Diane Babineaux, gathered recently at the historic Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. to commemorate Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ first 100 days in office. Among the issues discussed was the role that women must have in the developing green economy and the need for fairness in the workplace. Solis also expressed concern for conditions faced by women and girls across our borders and overseas. 

Solis lamented the lack of attention that working women’s issues received during the last eight years and declared that her department would give them the emphasis they deserved. Also discussed at the meeting was the need for a strong leader at the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau. The position of director is currently vacant.

According to its 1920 mandate, the Women’s Bureau formulates standards and policies to promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.

“Labor has taken a backseat for eight long years with budgets and bureaucrats that were actually hostile to working men and women,” said Transportation Grand Lodge Representative Carla Winkler, who welcomed the opportunity to provide input. “Finally, we have a strong advocate in the Cabinet who understands the role of unions and women in shaping this nation’s future.”

Founded in 1922, the Woman’s National Democratic Club was the first meeting place for Democratic women in Washington, D.C. The club’s twice-weekly events have endured for nine decades and provide a lively forum for discussion with speakers such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, E. L. Doctorow, Madeleine Albright, Jim Lehrer, Vernon Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Loretta and Linda Sanchez and other prominent national and local figures.

Lockheed Martin Targets New Mexico Machinists

The IAM is calling on Lockheed Martin to withdraw a proposal to outsource more than 100 safety sensitive positions at Sandia National Laboratories at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM. The move would replace trained, experienced personnel at the facility with vendors in twenty-three outside locations.

“Lockheed Martin is citing pressure to cut costs from the Department of Energy (DOE) as the reason to outsource the jobs, which includes work on nuclear weapons, satellite components and tasks for the Department of Homeland Security,” said Bill Sena, president of the regional Metal Trades Council. “Our members have done this work inside Sandia Laboratories for more than 50 years, and they should not be displaced for cost savings that Lockheed has failed to justify.”

The announcement by Lockheed Martin that they plan to eliminate the IAM’s work in the machine shop comes in the midst of contract negotiations and despite offers to extend the current contract. Since 1950, members of IAM Local 1689 have performed precision machining and maintenance work at Sandia National Laboratories. Since the early 1990’s, IAM members at Sandia Labs have been employed by Lockheed Martin under the Service Contract Act, which governs labor relations at many government facilities.

IAM Secures $1 Million Grant for Hazmat Training

Starting next month, the IAM Occupational Safety and Health Department will begin a program to train airline workers in the handling and transporting of hazardous materials. The safety program was made possible by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

A report released by DOT shows there were more than 1,200 air incidents involving hazardous materials last year. “Creating safer workplaces and erasing the number of work-related injuries each year remains one of our chief priorities in the transportation industry,” says Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr. “Airline workers come across a lot of potentially hazardous chemicals throughout their day, and need to know the proper procedures for handling such substances. With this grant, the IAM is able to provide our members with information to protect their health and safety on the job.”

IAM Occupational Safety and Health Director Mike Flynn will oversee the implementation of the grant. He and his staff developed the curriculum and specialized course materials that will be used onsite at each of the participating airlines. A group of 20 United Airlines workers are expected to take part in the first session at the William W. Winpisinger Education & Technology Center in July.

“All the companies have their existing training in place,” says Flynn. “This doesn’t replace it, rather it augments it. Our members are training our members, which is really the cornerstone of all the IAM’s training. Our members better relate to people who have rolled their sleeves up and worked with them.”

Flynn says DOT contacted the IAM about the grant last year because of the Machinists’ outstanding track record in worker safety and the IAM’s Corporation for Re-Employment and Safety Training (C.R.E.S.T.) services. Planning has already begun for a continuation and expansion of the grant for next year.

House Approves TSA Bill with Overseas Repair Language

A combined effort by the IAM Transportation and Legislative Departments and the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) helped ensure passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reauthorization bill that contains important security protections for Machinists union members.

The bill ensures that flight attendants receive the security training they need to respond to threats in aircraft cabins. Provisions include a minimum of 5 hours of mandatory training every two years. Currently, training is voluntary. “Adequate safety and security of aircraft, flight attendants and passengers cannot be accomplished through optional training,” said Transportation GVP Robert Roach, Jr. “This bill mandates the training IAM flight attendants have been fighting for.”

Additionally, the TSA bill increases security standards at aviation repair facilities located overseas. “The IAM has been working for more than a decade to create one level of safety and security at all aircraft repair facilities,” said Roach.

Foreign repair stations are not currently held to the same safety or security standards as those in the U.S. The new language states that the TSA “shall issue regulations establishing security standards for foreign and domestic repair stations performing maintenance for aircraft used to provide air transportation and shall ensure that comparable standards apply to maintenance work performed by employees of repair stations…”

“Both of these provisions were opposed by the airline industry,” said Roach. “The Machinists Union and the TTD fought back to win these important provisions that protect our members and our skies.”

The bill, H.R. 2200, passed by a 397-35 vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

High Speed Rail Projects Gather Momentum

Funding to “jump start” high-speed rail networks across the country could come as early as late summer, according to Vice President Joe Biden.

In a meeting with governors and transportation officials from several states, Biden said $8 billion in stimulus funds will help upgrade the country’s passenger rail system, while at the same time create jobs and help the environment.

“It’s close to embarrassing internationally that we have such a terrible passenger rail system, relatively speaking, in the United States,” Biden said. “We do know that $8 billion won’t put in place an entire high-speed rail network… but it’s 8 billion times more than we had.”

President Obama has requested an additional $5 billion in his budget.

The White House identified ten major corridors, as well as the Northeast Corridor, for high-speed rail projects: California, the Pacific Northwest, South Central, the Gulf Coast, the Chicago Hub, Florida, the Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England.