June 2009

From The Officers
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China Trade Must Be Fair

An upcoming test of our nation���s trade laws could well determine the future���not just of the once-powerful domestic tire industry���but of the entire U.S. manufacturing sector.

Despite the decline of manufacturing, hundreds of thousands of IBEW hours of construction work continue to be dedicated to manufacturing facilities. Our members have a deep stake in the outcome of the China tire trade dispute.

Over the last five years, imports of tires from China have increased nearly 300 percent. Since 2004, four domestic tire plants have shut down. At least two more plants will be closed this year, sending 2,400 more workers to the unemployment line. Five of the six plants are unionized.

The Steelworkers have filed a petition under Section 421 of U.S. trade law asking the U.S. International Trade Commission to rule that the industry has been subjected to unfair competition. The union calls for a three-year cap on imports of Chinese tires at about half of the 2008 total. President Obama will then have the option of granting the petition or turning it down. President Bush rejected every Section 421 petition each time he was asked to protect a U.S. industry against imports flooding in from China.

We have already seen progress in reversing many of the anti-labor policies of the Bush administration. But we still have cause for deep concern on trade.

First, China maintains great influence as a result of that nation���s immense investment in U.S. treasury bonds and securities. In the tire case, Chinese government appointees are already attempting to influence members of the ITC outside of the official hearing process.

Second, corporate groups will pour big dollars into spreading half-truths to try to force the Obama administration to continue the ���free trade��� policies of the Bush administration.

We cannot let them win this time. When economic catastrophe occurs, like in the tire industry, our laws must come to the rescue of men and women whose labor has always kept us strong.

Edwin D. Hill
International President

Justice for MasTec Workers

In his first address to Congress in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln laid out his view of the worker���s role in wealth creation: ���Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.��� Were he alive today, I���m sure he would agree that it���s always frustrating when a corporation reaps massive profits while leaving its workers out in the cold.

This is the situation at companies like MasTec, which pulled in record revenue last year���$1.4 billion���while workers scraped by on declining wages and skimpy benefits. Employees also endured harassment for continued efforts to obtain union representation.

The IBEW originally organized a MasTec shop in Tampa, Fla., three years ago, but the company is still stonewalling on negotiating a first contract. The story is similar at other shops across the country.

But the IBEW is not giving up; neither are the activists working for MasTec who have taken a stand in a difficult economy. In February, workers at the Duluth, Ga., shop voted for IBEW representation through Atlanta Local 613 (see story on page 4). Some of them could have kept their mouths shut and simply looked out for themselves, but they had the smarts to know that without a collective presence, they are doomed to be dead-ended on their jobs.

It���s times like these that further illustrate why Congress must pass the Employee Free Choice Act. With the act���s stipulation that workers get access to first contract mediation and arbitration within 90 days of voting pro-union, those MasTec workers in Tampa would now be enjoying a better quality of life while helping the company flourish.

Will MasTec and similar communications companies like DirecTech be brought into the fold of more reasonable companies like AT&T and Verizon���who at least respect our right to collectively bargain���or will they simply take the money and run? Our efforts here could be precedent setting, establishing a template for workers in the communications field down the line. Like the activist MasTec employees, we must keep fighting.

Lindell K. Lee
International Secretary-Treasurer