iMail for Thursday, September 14, 2006

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards Dies

Former Texas Governor and progressive Democrat Ann Richards, 73, died yesterday from esophageal cancer at her home in Austin.

Richards was elected governor of Texas in 1991 after a brutal campaign against West Texas millionaire Clayton Williams. Richards went on to help revitalize the state’s economy, appoint more women and minorities to state agencies and reform the state’s prison system.

It was in 1988 as Texas state treasurer, however, when Richards gained national notoriety. During her keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that year she uttered the now famous one-liner about then vice president George H.W. Bush, “Poor George, he can’t help it…He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

When Richards was elected state treasurer in 1982 she became the first woman elected to a statewide office in Texas in 50 years. Prior to assuming that post, she served as Travis County commissioner and volunteered on numerous local political campaigns.

After leaving the governorship in 1994, she served on various corporate boards and was a senior advisor at the Washington law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand.

New Website Exposes Union Busters

Union busting is a big industry in the United States, and a new website sponsored by American Rights at Work ( ) lifts the lid on the slimy “Center for Union Facts.” and other organizations behind the rash of misleading ( anti-union television and print propaganda from corporate America.

With pages of background and extensive research, the new “Anti-Union Network” ( ) website reveals the close ties between Richard Berman, who runs the “Center for Union Facts,” corporate clients and a network of anti-union organizations devoted to busting unions in the United States. Berman, longtime industry frontman, ( has a history of distorting facts to push his clients’ interests, such as attacking drunk driving laws and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving on behalf of American Beverage Institute or discounting the health effects of obesity on behalf of food and restaurant companies.

But Berman is just one part of a larger campaign involving extreme anti-labor politicians, right-wing think tanks, the U.S Chamber of Commerce ( ) and other groups such as the rabidly anti-union Right-to-Work Foundation ( )who are waging a multi-front campaign to destroy America’s union movement.

Arizona Judge Rules for IAM Retirees

A U.S. District Court Judge in Arizona recently delivered a ringing endorsement for collective bargaining rights when he ruled that IAM retirees employed at Raytheon Corp. can go forward with a lawsuit to block the aerospace company from making modifications to their health care benefits.

The IAM retirees, members of Local 933 in Tucson, AZ, filed suit when Raytheon claimed it had the right to modify benefits under language contained in health care plan documents. The judge rejected that claim and said the contract, not the health care plan, was the relevant document and could not be overruled.

“The Plan’s language is subservient to the CBA (collective bargaining agreement),” said the court in a ruling that was welcome news to the retirees. “The Plan may not circumvent or extinguish benefit rights secured by a CBA.”

The IAM contract at issue covered members who retired from Raytheon and Hughes Missile Systems Co., a predecessor company that merged with Hughes in 1997. As part of the merger, Raytheon agreed to provide health care benefits for retirees who left the company before age 65. In 2003, however, Raytheon replaced the retiree plan, claiming it had the right to reduce or eliminate benefits negotiated in the CBA. The retirees then sued, claiming Raytheon’s modifications were contrary to terms contained in their contract and a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA).

“This is a very important victory in the battle to protect retirees’ rights, but the fight isn’t over yet,” said Local 933 DBR Bob Martinez, who helped prepare the retirees’ lawsuit. “Contracts must be respected and not modified unless both sides agree.”

U.S. Trade Deficit Soars to Record $68 Billion in July

The United States trade deficit hit a record $68 billion in July, over $3 billion more than the trade deficit in June, according the U.S. Commerce Dept.  The July deficit was up by 5 percent from the imbalance in the previous month and surpassed the former monthly record of 66.6 billion dollars set last October.

The trade deficit reflects the difference in goods and services that we import when compared to how much we export, meaning the U.S. continues to import billions of dollars of more goods than we export. Not surprisingly, our trade deficit with China continues to surge. Our trade deficit with other countries like Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan also reaches into the billions.

U.S. Job Growth Remains Sluggish

The U.S. created only 128,000 jobs last month, marking the fifth straight month of sluggish job growth. Since April, job growth has averaged only 119,000 jobs a month, marking an economic slowdown that is hitting working families especially hard.

The disappointing numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, can be attributed to higher interest rates, a slowing housing market and energy costs, according to an Economic Policy Report.

The latest jobs report also shows the unemployed are having an extremely difficult time finding work. In August, 18.4 percent of the 7.1 million unemployed were without a job for at least 6 months. Traditionally, when the unemployment rate has hovered between 4.5 percent and 5.5 percent as it is now, only 11.7 percent of the jobless have faced long-term unemployment.

Vilsack Announces Support for Card Check

Standing with union leaders from around the country, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack declared his support for the Employee Free Choice Act (S. 842, H.R. 1692), legislation that would require employers to recognize a union when presented with cards signed by a majority of employees in a bargaining unit.

Vilsack announced the endorsement as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization of moderate Democrats, giving fresh momentum to the legislation that now claims 215 co-sponsors in the House and 43 in the Senate. 

Card check elections provide employees with an opportunity to bypass the lengthy and cumbersome process overseen by the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) and move quickly to the bargaining process. Employers routinely use the delay required by the NLRB process to mount anti-union efforts that include harassment, discrimination and discharge of union supporters.

New Brunswick Ford Techs Join IAM

Technicians, parts clerks and service advisors at Towne Ford Sales and Service in Miramichi, New Brunswick, are the newest members of IAM Local 2418 in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada.

“These people turned to us for representation after their employer refused to acknowledge their request for wage parity with other technicians in the area based on their qualifications,” said GLR Brian Beaton. “Basically their employer doesn’t respect their expertise so they came to the Machinists, who represent technicians at three other dealerships in the area.”

Working Families Continue to Struggle

With wages slipping and health care costs jumping, working families are struggling to stay afloat. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the median income of those headed by someone less than 65 years old, considered to be working-age households, fell .5 percent in 2005 and has fallen 5.4 percent since 2000.

The growing income inequality between the rich and the working class also continues to expand. A recent report from the Census Bureau shows the wealthiest fifth of households accounted for 50.4 percent of the national income, the highest percentage since 1967. The middle fifth accounted for just 14.6 percent of total income and the bottom fifth just 3.4 percent of total income, both historically some of the lowest shares on record.

The number of Americans without health insurance, meanwhile, increased for the fifth straight year. Nearly 47 million people in the U.S. went without health insurance in 2005, up 2.9 percent 2004. Further complicating matters for working families is the greatest declines in health insurance coverage were employment-based, leaving many families scrambling to pay for health care. The percentage of the population with employment-based health coverage has dropped from 63.6 percent in 2000 to 59.5 percent today.