Dozens of IAM members in Louisiana and Mississippi whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita gathered last week in Picayune, MS to mourn their losses, share experiences and draw strength from each other for the challenges ahead.
“There are brothers and sisters here today who lost homes, jobs and even family members to the storm and still they wanted to know what they could to help others,” said Southern Territory GVP Bob Martinez, Jr., who praised the members for their courage and endurance. “Each of you is a symbol of the true greatness of America and we will never forget your sacrifices or your spirit.”
Among those present were members who received donations from the nearly $300,000 collected by the IAM Community Services Dept. in the wake of the hurricanes.
“It was a privilege to bring any measure of assistance to these men and women,” said Special Representative Tommy Mayfield, who coordinated Gulf Coast hurricane relief and assistance.
In other hurricane related news, President Bush traveled to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast last week and confounded area residents with his assessments of the region.
“The President said he saw ‘dynamic changes’ in a relatively untouched part of New Orleans and then passed through some of the hardest hit areas almost without comment,” said GVP Martinez. “These people need real help, not a political public relations junket aimed at boosting poll numbers and campaign contributions.”
In a section of old Baton Rouge known as Beauregard Town, IAM members joined with thousands of marchers from across the country for the AFL-CIO’s annual march to commemorate the birth of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The parade capped off five days of events in Louisiana and was one of dozens of nationwide observances reaffirming the historic bond between labor and civil rights activists. Many of the speakers and events in the South focused on the ongoing struggle to bring relief to communities in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, where tens of thousands are still without basic services or utilities.
“It’s a national tragedy to see Americans still living in cars, tents and on the street more than 100 days after Hurricane Katrina hit,” said IAM Executive Assistant Diane Babineaux, who led a contingent of Machinists to Louisiana and visited New Orleans’ hardest hit neighborhoods. “The destruction is widespread and unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said Babineaux. “But our government’s response has been inadequate on an equally grand scale.”
Among the Machinists taking part in this year’s AFL-CIO activities in Louisiana were members from District 837 in St. Louis, MO and Local Lodge 709 in Marietta, GA, in addition to representatives from IAM headquarters.
Continental Airlines Flight Attendants will begin voting January 18, 2006 on a tentative agreement reached with the Houston-based airline last month.
The terms of the four-year tentative agreement include preservation of wage rates and progressions for current Flight Attendants; top base pay rate increased to $50 per hour prior to amendable date; no furloughs for Flight Attendants and participation in profit sharing and stock option plans.
The airline also agreed to contribute to the IAM National Pension Plan (NPP) on behalf of Continental Airlines Flight Attendants. Activating the NPP would be at the discretion of the IAM and its members, however, the plan would be activated immediately if the current Continental Airlines Retirement Plan is frozen or terminated.
Voting will be concluded January 29, 2006.
The Maryland General Assembly mustered the three-fifths majority votes needed to override a veto by GOP Governor Robert Ehrlich to make Maryland the first state to require large, profitable corporations like Wal-Mart to spend more on employee healthcare.
The victory gives a boost to similar campaigns in at least 30 other states. Supporters say Washington and New Hampshire are high priorities and similar bills are pending Colorado, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
First passed in May, 2005 as the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, Governor Ehrlich stepped in for Wal-Mart and vetoed the bill. After intense lobbying by both sides, Democratic lawmakers overrode Ehrlich’s veto last week. The bill requires employers with more than 10,000 Maryland employees to spend at least eight percent of their payroll on healthcare or pay the difference into the state’s Medicaid fund. Of the state’s largest employers, only Wal-Mart spends less than eight percent of payroll costs on employee healthcare.
“The taxpayers are giving a healthcare subsidy to the largest retailer on earth,” said Democratic Delegate Kumar Brave. Wal-Mart employs more than 17,000 Marylanders and more than half of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million employees nationwide aren’t covered by the company’s health insurance. Wal-Mart raked in $10 billion in profits last year but their low wages and costly insurance push thousands of their employees and their children into state-run Medicaid programs.
House Republican Leader George Edwards reflected the GOP’s attitude that the bill was an unwarranted intrusion into private enterprise. “If you don’t want to work for Wal-Mart, no one’s twisting your arms. Go somewhere else and work,” said Edwards.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) recently declared that outsourcing of white-collar jobs to low-wage countries such as India has become a global fact of life and that America must learn to live with it.
“Everybody is concerned about job losses and so am I,” he told the Associated Press in an interview in Bangalore, India on his first stop on a five-day tour of India. “Offshoring is a fact of globalization.”
Baucus, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, made his remarks to the Associated Press while touring India with American business leaders.
China’s foreign currency reserves jumped to a record $819 billion last year, paving the way for increased pressure on China to further revalue their currency. Analysts expect China’s currency reserves to top $1 trillion in 2006, likely making them the biggest holder of foreign currency.
Despite being undervalued by up to 40 percent, China revalued the yuan by a mere 2.1 percent in July, temporarily easing trade tensions with the U.S. However, the continued loss of manufacturing jobs and a skyrocketing trade deficit has led lawmakers to increase pressure on China to further strengthen their currency. By undervaluing their currency, China’s export prices are kept artificially low, a strategy that has cost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the West.
China also announced their trade surplus tripled to $102 billion in 2005, drawing criticism from the China Currency Coalition, who contend China’s surplus is actually closer to $435 billion.