Friday, March 24, 2017

Even Amidst ACA Debacle, GOP Makes Time for UNION BUSTING

One might imagine that with all of the hoopla in recent days surrounding the GOP's infighting around the ACA, and healthcare reform, that they might be too busy for union busting. Sadly, you would be wrong. Even amidst the ACA debacle, GOP leadership has been quietly pushing their agenda of busting the federal sector unions, and stripping hundreds of thousands of federal employees of their rights.
H.R. 1364 would even cause federal sector union stewards and local officers who use official time for representation to have their pensions seized when they are on more than 80% official time, and the legislation leaves it open for interpretation on whether that is for future or past service, meaning that hundreds of individuals who have dedicated their lives to protecting their fellow workers and improving their agencies, could have their pensions stolen outright. And legal arguments to get them back could be tied up under a Trump Supreme Court, until every pensioner has died of old age.
It's easy for people who don't work with federal employees to think this isn't such a bad thing, because, after all, who cares about fat cat federal bureaucrats in Washington DC, right? The reality, however, is that we aren't talking about the bonus bloated, overpaid bureaucrats that the GOP would like you to believe run rampant on the federal payroll.
We are talking about the nurses and technicians and electricians and janitors at the local Veterans Hospital, who often earn less than their private sector counterparts. We are talking about the men and women who work at the Army and Air Force bases keeping our planes flying, our troops supplied, and our nation safe. We are talking about the workers at the Social Security offices who make sure that your parents and grandparents get the benefits they have earned. And, we are talking about hurting veterans as well, because the federal government workforce is comprised of around 40% US Veterans, many of whom are disabled from their military service.
These attacks on the federal sector workforce are a typical GOP solution for a problem that does not exist. They point to things like the Phoenix VA scandal as proof for the need to make it easier to fire federal workers and weaken their unions, but in reality, it is almost always union members using official time who bring these scandals to light. In the VA alone, there are over 120,000 veterans working for the agency who get their care at the same healthcare facilities. If anyone should be entrusted with working to make the services better, it is these men and women. Stripping them of their workplace protections only puts them at risk from the same inept management who create the poor service environments for veterans and lie about wait times. And if they don't get squeamish about killing veterans, how do you think they treat their employees?
This most recent round of attacks are only part of a master plan devised by the likes of the Koch Brothers who hope to rid the entire nation of unions, and insurance and healthcare profiteers to get organized labor out of the way, so they can attack and privatize the pensions benefits of the federal worker, and privatize the care of our nation's veterans, and many other essential government services. With private sector unions on the ropes, public and federal sector labor unions represent a last bastion of union strength to corporate interests and the politicians they have bought and paid for.
Now that the war to protect healthcare has lulled, I implore everyone to take a moment to stand up with our brothers and sisters in the federal workforce and make a call to your representatives. This is our fight too, and we have got to stand together to beat these attacks on workers on every level. PLEASE make this important call. An injury to any one of us, is an injury to us all, and these bills hurt veterans!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New Tool Unveiled for Iowa Progressives

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 3/18/17
This Saturday, March 18th, marked an exciting day for the Iowa progressive movement. Iowa Teamsters Local 238 Secretary Treasurer, Jesse Case, unveiled the new 501(c)3 Teamsters Community Action Network, or TeamCan. The event was attended by nearly 200 leaders and activists representing labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, progressive religious leaders, and many recent  local start-ups working to fight the Trump/Koch agenda at every level.  
Case outlined TeamCan as a non-profit with the multifaceted agenda of connecting the dots for the entire movement, as an umbrella group to offer coordination, training, and support. From now on, when a small group of activists in rural Iowa are wondering how best to build a local strategy, TeamCan will be there to assist them with planning, leadership training, and link their efforts and needs with other progressive groups in the area.
Far from settling for just accomplishing the seemingly impossible dream of a coordinated progressive movement, TeamCan also has devoted resources to putting community organizers on the ground in rural Iowa communities long ago abandoned by other progressives.
Such an unprecedented organizing effort has the ability to strike at the very heart of the right wing strongholds in the state, by reaching out to the growing number of minority and under-represented working families struggling to survive there, telling their story to give a voice to their quiet desperation, and offering a link to the power and support of organized labor and progressives of every ilk throughout Iowa.
"We can continue to focus on the little things that divide us," said Case, "or instead focus on the larger goals that we all share in common. Our enemies don't waste time fighting over tiny differences, and neither should we."
TeamCan is the most exciting new tool for activists in the state of Iowa in recent memory, and has the opportunity to bring all of our efforts into coordinated laser focus toward achieving larger shared goals of defeating our mutual enemies. Please check it out, and think about how your group or organization could contribute to the effort and benefit from being part of this movement. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Your Vote Counts. It Just Doesn't Matter.

Right now, every union official and most activists in the country who have dedicated their lives to expanding voting rights and getting out the vote, are thinking I have completely lost my mind. So, allow me to explain the title of this piece before serving my head on a platter.
My last blog inspired a few people to send emails stating that I sounded like a typical union hack, and that my singular motivation is to simply elect Democrats. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, because right now, in this country, when it comes to so many of the biggest issues confronting us... how you vote matters a lot less than many people would like you to believe.
Granted, Republicans are currently gutting organized labor and worker protections like a fish. As I write this, they are in a blood thirsty frenzy to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with something else that will further benefit the wealthy. So, let us more closely examine healthcare as a primary example for my argument (meh... healthcare and numbers ALERT.. please bear with me!).

From the beginning, Republicans labeled Obamacare as socialized medicine, complete with "death panels" and invoked images of Soviet era breadlines for near death citizens. In reality, it was little more than a minor restructuring of the current capitalist health insurance system. Republicans are going to jockey a few things around again and make sure to throw in some tax gifts to the wealthy, but at the end of the day, it will be a slightly repackaged version of the same shitty for-profit capitalist system we have been suffering under for decades.

The age old argument of the right was that healthcare costs are the direct result of patients and doctors who game the otherwise perfect free market system, and the high costs of greedy lawyers filing lawsuits and the resulting costs of malpractice insurances.

But those numbers do not add up at all, because while the BLS pegs the average physician at earning $187,000, and the average attorney pulling in just a little over $77,000 per year, all of that AND for profit hospitals and clinics still fail to account for where all that fucking money goes.

Where all the money goes is no secret. It goes to the insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies, and the numbers are absolutely staggering.

Of the one hundred or so major healthcare insurance providers in the United States, I pulled the financial reports of just four (UnitedHealth, Anthem, Humana, and Cigna). A look at the compensation of the top five senior executives of each revealed total compensation of $132.5 million... for just twenty people. That came out to an average of $33 million per insurance provider. If you multiply that times just 70 companies (for those who argue that not all 100 are created equally) that amounts to $2.3 billion.

In the Pharmaceutical Industry, I did the same thing using the public financial records of just four companies (Pfizer, Merck, Amgen, and Gilead), and their rounded average came out to $47 million per corporation for the top five executives. Multiplying that by 30 to account for the major industry players, and you get top five officer total executive industry compensation to the tune of $1.4 billion.

But even all of that is peanuts compared to the profit margins of those corporations, and the returns that investors have been experiencing. Using those same corporations as an average, then multiplying them by the same conservative factors, you get a total annual combined PROFIT margin of $1.5 Trillion. That's Trillion with a capital T.

And that, boys and girls, equals $4,717 for every single one of America's 318 million citizens. And with a 2014 national average per capita spending of $7,025 on healthcare, that means that the cost without private for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies would really be about $2,308 per person. That means that these fat cat capitalist fucks are raping the American citizens to the tune of over three times the actual cost of healthcare.

In fact, if you had only taken between $70,000 and $100,000 at the beginning of Obama's presidency in 2009 and invested it into these stockholder cash cows, right now, you would literally be a millionaire. That's right. While every other conceivable aspect of the American economy was in the tank, and only the richest of rich had money to invest, and during the awful, horrible forced supposed profit killing insurance pooling of Obamacare, the CEO's and investors in these corporations still managed to rake $1.5 trillion a year, every year, right off the top. Think about that shit next time you are choosing between canned Spam and your heart medication, or not taking your kid to the doctor because you have to fix the alternator on your car this week instead so you can get to work just to pay for your family healthcare plan this month. 


And if that didn't piss you off, then maybe this will. According to Opensecrets, in the 2012 cycle alone, the healthcare industry as a whole dumped $260.4 million dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying, and just to be fair, and to make sure that neither party would really be working for we, the people, they split it almost right down the middle between the two major parties.

That amounts to one cycle expenditures of $468,728 for each and every US Congressperson and Senator. And that, boys and girls, is why I say that you can vote, and your vote will probably be counted, but when it comes to things like healthcare, we are fucked no matter who we vote for until we find a way to take back our country from complete corporate domination.

Healthcare is one of the ways they (the 1% or whatever you want to call them) are literally killing the working class for the profit motive. Retirement savings are right up there and will only get dramatically worse under Republican control, and deregulation ALWAYS eventually leads to some financial collapse or another.

But right now, the worst case scenario for progressives and labor unions and working families is already upon us with complete Republican control. So, right now is the time to finally stop worrying about the worst case scenarios, and choosing the lesser of two evils and saying that things could always be worse. Now is the time to start working toward something better for the future. We literally have almost nothing left to lose.

We need to recognize that unless we dramatically change the way we do business as citizens, then fighting to get out the vote, or keep your right to vote, or get your right to vote, or making sure your vote is counted... well, none of it will really matter that much, will it?

If you have to ask yourself if your best interest is more or less important to the person you are working to elect than $468,728 then you are already completely fucked before you even start knocking on doors, or phone banking or anything else. And healthcare is just one example. Just one. Then you've got Banking, and Wall Street, and the Military Industrial Defense Complex, and the Payday Loan Industry and Gambling, and all of them with their own Trillions in profits coming out of your ass somehow, and each of them with their own $468,728 to doll out to "your" elected official.

It's like you've made the final three at the World Series of Poker. You have a pile of say, 50 chips, and the guy to your right has 2 chips. The other guy is telling you that the guy on your right is screwing you because he wants more chips in the form of welfare, or a raise in the minimum wage, or free healthcare or he is an immigrant trying to steal your chips or some bullshit, and meanwhile, this prick has chips stacked all the way around him that reach to the vaulted ceiling, and every card in his hand is a fucking ace.

And if you're pissed about that, then don't worry, we've got another election cycle coming up in two years and you can shove all of your angst and worry and anger and fear and energies into that great big election funnel, and if you're really lucky, you'll get a brand new dealer. But unless we do something, the cards will all be the same, and so will the chip count and absolutely nothing will really change.  

It's time, right now, to organize, to mobilize, to change the rules of the game, or kick over the card table, and take back our cities, our counties, our states, our workplaces, our government, and our nation. If not now... then when?

"If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving forward." -Martin Luther King Jr.-

Monday, March 6, 2017

Big Labor's Biggest Secret Revealed

As an organizer for a major labor organization, I remain surprised and dismayed by how many of our own union members don't really understand how it all works and where Union Power comes from.
To that end, I would like to herein offer a little bit of insight and reveal what is apparently the biggest secret about the union business.
Ready for it? The biggest secret about the union business is... THERE ARE NO FUCKING SECRETS ABOUT THE UNION BUSINESS! That's it. There is no secret springfed well of power that flows beneath the marble palaces in Washington DC. There is no secretive Skull and Bones-like society of union leadership pulling strings, even if a few of them up there might wish that were true.  
Generally speaking, the union business looks a lot like this... National Presidents and Executive Board members meet and TRY to establish agendas and plans, all the while wondering at what point their local unions and membership are going to wakeup and do something about the current crisis state of the movement. Mid-level and Local union leadership meet and wonder why the national office isn't doing more, and wonder when their membership is going to wakeup  and do something about the current crisis state of the movement and the workplace.
And Union Members, generally speaking, are wondering why their local unions aren't doing more, but more alarmingly, live under the bewildering assumption that the National Union will take care of it all for them somehow. This, after all, is why we pay union dues, right?
In fact, recently, in a meeting with union members, I was making them aware of some of the legislative efforts currently underway and one local union elected officer shook his head and said, "the national union will never allow that to happen. The attorneys will stop that."
To which I replied with the above face, only my jaw was much, much lower... and paler... with more of a double chin with graying reddish brown whiskers.

Answering that member, and so many more just like him, I felt the need to delve into exactly how a labor union works in these matters.

First, during political cycles, labor unions work to convey the importance of voting to their membership. Why? Because so many legislative issues effect us as working people that it would be a complete dereliction of duty NOT to inform members about the issues effecting their pocketbooks and rights as workers, and how respective candidates for office WILL vote on those issues.

Many union members get upset about this when they receive calls and mailers and volunteers knocking on their doors. The general belief has become that the unions are little more than the funding arm of the Democratic Party. Indeed, it is a correct assertion that the vast majority of labor unions DO support the vast majority of Democratic Candidates. But why, especially when so many Democratic Candidates are so obviously flawed?

The answer can be found in the currently Republican controlled state and national congresses and administrations. Because while many Democrats are flawed and spineless and do little in the way of helping advance the cause of workers and organized labor, Republicans, as a general rule, want to bust every union in the country, and turn back the clock on worker's rights about a hundred years, just as they openly promise their big corporate donors during their campaigns, and just as they are actually working to do right now. For those of us in the business who follow politics closely... all of the attacks currently being waged on workers amount to the biggest "WE FUCKING TOLD YOU SO" of modern times.  

Now in power, we have seen Wisconsin style union busting successfully introduced in Iowa, and anti-worker "right to work" legislation being introduced in numerous states as well as a national version being pushed in Washington. Attacks of every conceivable sort are being launched against our pensions and retirements savings, healthcare plans, and wages. Workers compensation is being dismantled in many states, safety nets like unemployment insurance are being hacked to pieces, and even child labor laws are being railed against by Koch controlled Republicans as holding back our youth from reaching their full potential.

In a nutshell, Democrats seldom do anything for us, but Republicans want to outright destroy us. Period. The fight is about the wholesale dismantling of the remainder of the American Labor Movement, and the ultimate destruction of every financial gain made by workers since they began striking for a ten hour workday in the 1830's. This matters to every single wage earning worker in the country and every single small business owner. The corporations who are in control of our governments right now have absolutely nothing for us, and share absolutely nothing in common with our collective interests. And labor leaders elected to represent workers have an unquestionable duty to try to educate members about it.

Understanding what unions can really do about it requires knowing how unions really work and where their power comes from. It is so simple that it should not require any explanation, really, but apparently something has been largely lost in the translation of communications between Washington DC and the rank and file.

I will use some basic rounded numbers from my current employer to try to illustrate further. Our national union employs a few hundred staff people, including attorneys, and representatives and organizers and political organizers and accountants and communications folks, etc., etc. and represents almost a million workers. 

There are people whose job it is to essentially read every line of every bill and look for things that effect our membership. These people are paramount to what we do because in modern times you can have a 6,000 page bill in Congress entitled the Potato Farmer Rejuvenation Act, and on page 4,867 you might find a rider attached that inexplicably can, say, raise the individual cost of pension benefits to all workers. Yes... it is just this ridiculous. Really. 

When things like this are discovered, they send teams of lobbyists to tell Congress we are against the Potato Farmer Rejuvenation Act in whole or in part, because of how it adversely effects members. The national union also sends out emails or text alerts or calls, or whatever communication the union of your choosing prefers, to educate membership about the bill and why we ought to be for or against it.

The union president and all of the lobbyists talk to whoever will listen about the bill. But here is the thing; and it is the most important thing; if there are almost a million people represented by a union with a few hundred staff people, then it defies logic and common sense to assume that "the union" is going to take care of all problems. "Union power" lies almost completely with the masses.

I believe the problem often lies in how members view the union. They say "the union" referring to some faraway mystical place in D.C. that is an all powerful Wizard of Oz. I have dedicated my life to this thing of ours and I can tell you with all certainty that I did not do so because I believe in the power of national union leaders in Washington DC. I did it because I believe that the power of working people banding together for mutual aid and protection as the ONLY true source of power against an unjust society designed to benefit the very wealthy propertied classes. In the photo above, "the union" is neither St. Michael, nor the Devil. Rather, the union is the sword.

It is a tool or a weapon to be wielded by activists against injustice. That is it. That is all. The man behind the curtains really is us. If someone is being treated unjustly, the union is a sword that can be wielded BY US and swung as a weapon to fight for them. If we want to improve our lot in life, the union is our best tool in working toward achieving our shared goals. But that is it. That is all it is. It is a tool and a weapon, but without someone who cares enough to pick it up and use it, then it is nothing at all. If the members and the masses do nothing with it, then it becomes merely what the corporate interests want you to believe it is... a machine for collecting moneys from your check. Nothing more.

People need to know this. People need to understand that "the union" is nothing without us. They also need to understand that we desperately need more powerful unions in this country to combat the coming tsunami of legislation being drafted against all of us. The unions ARE the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike holding back the surge of rising waters. They are our last line of defense. There is NO ONE else.

And here is a big P.S. to members who think that attorneys will win the day for them: It doesn't fucking matter how many attorneys you employ, or how awesome their legal argument is when the enemies of the working class control the U.S. Supreme Court. All roads lead to it, and there is NO JUSTICE to be found in it when all branches of government are controlled by the same party.

I don't want to sound as if the sky is falling, but please understand that the fucking sky is literally falling right now. If you are waiting around for "the union" to do something about it, then quietly go to your boss right now, hand in your resignation, and go apply at Wal-Mart while they are still hiring because pretty soon they are probably going to be one of the best employment options around. 

So, pray tell, what to do? That is the question of the hour isn't it? I say when in doubt, do SOMETHING. And here are a few thoughts to get you started...

First, when it comes to making your voices heard legislatively, get used to calling and emailing your state and national representatives. Most unions nowadays have it setup to make this ridiculously easy for you to do, because they recognize that 2,000 phone calls from a representative's home district is more powerful than 20,000 calls from all across the country. It sounds and feels stupid and pointless, but sometimes... every once in a while, it actually works and pressures an elected official in to backing out of their bought and paid for position on a  bill.

We see the difference in the union business when our lobbyists go in to talk to elected officials. They are either like, "now what do you guys want?" or they are like, "yeah, yeah... we know why you are here... we've received 2,000 calls from your members in our home district, and here is how we are prepared to work with you on that."

But even more powerful (as we have recently seen) than 2,000 phone calls and emails, is the presence of 200 constituents at a town hall, or 20 gathered at a local congressional field office.

For more about fighting back, and even forming groups of your own to do it, check out Indivisible. These folks are making a real difference just bringing people together and providing them with some very basic tools for getting started.

There is much more to do than simply lobbying too. This shit storm of labor hating didn't begin suddenly last election cycle. The Koch Brothers and their cronies have been organizing quietly for decades. Now we must do the same.

I implore you, I beg of you, if you are a lifelong activist, or a person who is just fed up and ready to do something but you don't know what yet... DO NOT WAIT for someone else to plan it for you, or tell you what to do. That is exactly the sort of thing that got us all into this mess to begin with. We have all relied upon someone else to wield our swords for far too long. Use the tools on Indivisible to form your own group in your own community.

To win back the day in the long run, we have to fight like hell to stop the advance of union busting and anti-worker legislation today, and start building in every county and state and city and town in the nation, something worthy of people actually believing in again. If you wait for someone else to do that for you, then the exact same people will do the exact same things, and a decade from now we will all be voting in the presidential election of Donald Trump, Jr. VS. Chelsea Clinton. Great kids, I'm sure, but fuck them. This is our country and our children's future we are talking about here... not theirs.

For my brothers and sisters across the land... sign up for email alerts from your union... and READ the damned emails! If they ask you to do something... DO IT. And DO NOT wait for your national union or your local union or the AFL-CIO to think up some great fucking solution for you. Get off your asses and do something yourself. If it helps to use the union as a resource when organizing, use it. If it doesn't, use some other tool, or make your own sword. But now is the time to DO SOMETHING!!

For those of you in my great State of Iowa, please consider RSVP'ing to attend the following event. This is not strictly a union event. Every progressive and pissed off working class person in Iowa is welcome to attend and join the discussion on a new kind of organizational sword we can use to fight for social justice. I plan on being there and I hope you will consider joining us. 

Thanks For Reading,