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July 2016

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A Win for Working Families:
Paycheck Deception Law Goes Down in Missouri

When the votes were tallied, the IBEW and other advocates for working families in Missouri beat back an attempt to pass a paycheck deception law.

The Missouri Senate voted 22-10 in favor of the legislation early on the morning of May 13, but that was one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto. The House voted a week earlier to override the veto.

"It was a difficult session. Thank God it's over with," said Missouri State Electrical Workers Conference President Michael Datillo. "That was a big win for labor."

Known as paycheck protection laws by supporters, the Missouri legislation would have required public sector employees who are members of unions to state in writing each year they wanted union dues taken out of their paychecks. The push is part of a coordinated attack by moneyed interests effectively using politicians to advance their anti-labor agenda, said state Political Coordinator Rudy Chavez, who is Kansas City Local 124 president.

"There are probably 90 members of the GOP [in the state Legislature] who are voting the will of their big money donors over their constituents," Chavez said. "Polling shows that right-to-work and paycheck deception are not pressing interests to most people."

Police and first-responder workers who are union members were exempt from the proposed law, which likely would have spurred a court challenge. Republican sponsors admitted that provision was put in the bill to secure more legislative support.

Opponents argued that membership in public sector unions in Missouri is already voluntary. The move was just an another attack on organized labor and an attempt to drive down wages, they said.

The deciding vote was cast by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal from University City, a St. Louis suburb. Chappelle-Nadal was the lone Democratic senator to vote in favor of the legislation earlier in the session. She was the last senator to cast her vote, setting up a tense situation on the Senate floor. Her no vote came just after midnight, the Kansas City Star reported.

Republicans have held overwhelming majorities in the Missouri Legislature in recent years, enough to override many vetoes by Nixon, a Democrat who has been in office since 2009.

But enough GOP legislators have crossed over to beat back some anti-worker legislation. That was the case again with the paycheck deception legislation. Republican senators Ryan Silvey from Kansas City and Gary Romine from Farmington voted no, as did Bill Kidd, a Republican House member from Blue Springs in suburban Kansas City, who has consistently supported working families.

Chavez described the language in the legislation as sloppy and open to a legal challenge if it had passed.

"There were some constitutional holes in it and we were going to court," he said. "That was going to be our next play. But lawyers charge by the hour."

Observers feared adoption would have emboldened conservative forces next year to try to pass a similar law for private sector workers.

The Missouri General Assembly passed a right-to-work law in 2015, but Nixon vetoed it and the House failed to override it. There also has been legislation filed in the past to weaken prevailing wage laws. Right-to-work proponents, backed by far-right groups, continue to push for a right-to-work law in the state.

"It's difficult when you are outnumbered," said Datillo, who is also St. Louis 1455 business manager, adding there are 65 Republicans running for seats in the state Legislature that are uncontested. "Those are 65 seats that Republicans are going to hold because we can't get Democrats to run."

The American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC and comprised of conservative politicians and business representatives who write model laws for right-wing legislators around the country, also has been active in pushing anti-labor legislation in Missouri.

Chavez said the Joplin-based Humphreys family, which owns a building products manufacturer, have, through a non-profit organization, spent $2 million recently to run television and radio ads with instructions to union members on how to decertify their union.

The battles against working people in Missouri likely won't end anytime soon. Both the state House and Senate are expected to remain overwhelmingly Republican following the November elections and state law prohibits Nixon from running for a third term. Attorney General Chris Koster is considered the prohibitive favorite among four Democratic candidates and has supported pro-working family policies in the past. Missouri's gubernatorial primary is Aug. 2.


Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal at the end of the state legislative session.

Photo provided under a Creative Commons agreement by Missouri Lawyers Media.

IBEW, Other Unions Mount Right-to-Work
Challenge in W.Va.

Six IBEW locals with jurisdiction in West Virginia will be among the plaintiffs in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the right-to-work law passed by the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier this year over Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's veto.

The state AFL-CIO informed West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of the intent to sue in a letter dated May 5. Such a letter is required by West Virginia law 30 days prior to a suit being filed against the state.

The locals planning to file suit are Wheeling Local 141, Huntington Local 317, Charleston Local 466, Clarksburg Local 596 and Parkersburg Local 968. Cumberland, Md., Local 307, which has jurisdiction in parts of West Virginia, also will be a plaintiff. Other parties filing the advance notice are the West Virginia State Building & Construction Trades Council; United Mine Workers of America; and Teamsters Local 175 in Charleston.

"They fast tracked this and drafted a real shoddy bill," said Dave Efaw, a former Charleston Local 466 business manager who is now secretary/treasurer of the state's building trades. "That's why we're finding mistakes."

Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying membership dues, even when they receive the benefits of a union contract, and prohibit companies from encouraging them to join a union. They have been enacted in 26 states and harm working families by driving down wages and often lead to unsafe working conditions.

Republicans control both the West Virginia House and Senate for the first time since 1930 and made passing a right-to-work law their top priority during this year's legislative session. The opening day usually is reserved for ceremony and the governor's state of the state address. But this year, Republicans used it to introduce Senate Bill 1, the right-to-work law. Senate President Bill Cole, the Republican nominee for governor, was a co-sponsor.

Opening day was Jan. 13. The legislature overrode Tomblin's veto on Feb. 12. Only a simple majority was required to do so.

"They were determined not to work on anything until that was done," Charleston Local 466 Business Manager Joe Samples said. "They also made sure it only went through one committee. That was really unusual. It usually goes through two or three committees."

The suit is expected to challenge the law primarily on two grounds. The first is that forcing unions to represent employees who refuse to pay union dues is an illegal taking of property under state law. A circuit court judge in Wisconsin found that state's right-to-work law unconstitutional in April on the grounds that forcing unions to provide representation to members who don't pay dues was an unlawful seizure of property. The state's attorney general has filed an appeal.

"When someone decides they're not going to pay their union dues, that means someone else is paying that person's share," Samples said. "The way we interpret the [state] constitution is that's taking away property and giving it to someone else."

The plaintiffs also are expected to argue the law only applies to collective bargaining involving public employee unions, pointing to a portion that defines the state as "any officer, board, branch, commission, department, division, bureau, committee, agency, authority or other instrumentality of the state of West Virginia" and not citing any private employer definitions.

"We feel like they exempted construction from this so-called workplace freedom bill and didn't realize that," Efaw said.

Plans for the lawsuit spurred an editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the state capital city's newspaper, with the headline "Legislative Incompetence?"

"So far, Republicans who control the legislature have shown an inability to govern because they can't raise enough revenue to keep the state government solvent," read part of the editorial. "It will be ironic if another botch mars their foremost accomplishment."

Samples and Efaw both noted the West Virginia right-to-work law is almost identical to right-to-work laws passed in recent years in both Indiana and Wisconsin. That's a sign it was largely written by interests from outside the state, particularly the arch-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, they said. ALEC is comprised of conservative politicians and business representatives who write model laws for right-wing legislators around the country.

The West Virginia suit will be filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court. Samples said he's optimistic about its success at that level, but expects it to eventually be heard by the West Virginia Supreme Court. The state held its first-ever non-partisan Supreme Court election in May, but a candidate aided by $3 million donated from conservative groups mostly from outside the state won the one available seat.

The West Virginia Legislature also repealed the state prevailing wage laws during this year's session. Prevailing wage laws require contractors doing business with governmental bodies to pay their workers at pre-determined levels.


A protestor during a successful pushback against a proposed right-to-work law in Pennsylvania in 2011.

Photo provided under a Creative Commons agreement by Rick Smith.

Government's Own TPP Report:
Meager Growth and Bigger Trade Deficit

The non-partisan U.S. International Trade Commission issued a report predicting the Trans-Pacific Partnership would lead to barely noticeable gains in the U.S. economy.

In a report issued May 17, the ITC forecasts real gross domestic product — the value of the entire output of the U.S. economy — would be only 0.15 percent larger than without TPP and employment would be a negligible 0.07 percent higher.

The ITC also predicted that the energy and manufacturing sectors, which employ more than 300,000 IBEW members, will be $11 billion smaller if the TPP passes.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a "free" trade deal negotiated among the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. It would lower barriers to trade, and would weaken labor, environmental and free speech protections.

To become law, the treaty needs majority approval in both houses of Congress and passage has been a White House priority for the final year of Obama's presidency. The treaty has been opposed by organized labor, environmentalists and many members of the president's own party.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said the ITC report confirms the IBEW's long held position that TPP is a bad deal and a distraction.

"The worst part is we know how to improve the situation of working families: rebuild our infrastructure," Stephenson said. "And you don't have to take my word for it. The neoliberal economists at the International Monetary Fund have been pushing free trade agreements for decades and even they said 1 percent of GDP invested in infrastructure leads to 4 percent growth within four years. Compare that to less than 1 percent gain over 20 years."

The highest-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, said the ITC report "confirms my position that I cannot support TPP as negotiated."

In a statement released by his office, Levin criticized the model used by the ITC, saying it was "based on an optimistic assumption that our trading partners will open their markets to our exports, rather than simply replacing their existing tariff barriers with new non-tariff barriers, even though we have repeatedly seen that happen in the past."

Before NAFTA became law in 1994, the ITC predicted there would be "minor negative impact" on U.S. auto production, no change in auto production employment, and no "appreciable" decline in employment in the electronics production sector.

Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said the trade report is "just the latest in [the ITC's] long line of rose-colored forecasts on the economic impact of free trade agreements."

The ITC assumed that everyone who loses their job could instantly find another one at the same salary because of "increased efficiencies" due to free trade. The ITC model also assumed that higher worker productivity will translate to an equal increase in wages, despite decades of evidence to the contrary. The ITC model also assumes only positive effects from the food and worker safety rules, consumer protections and banking regulations that will be stripped away under the deal.

A spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, however, "welcomed" the ITC report. In a statement from Myron Brilliant, U.S. Chamber executive vice president, wrote the report "provides substantive support for the Chamber's view that the TPP is in our national economic interest."

Despite the support of some in the business community, TPP has been criticized by presidential candidates. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Congress is unlikely to consider the deal before the November election.

"Experience teaches us to expect magical claims from the people selling us free trade deals," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "They are using just as much smoke and just as many mirrors, but the trick is failing, and we're not fooled."


U.S. Korea Trade Data Fuels TPP Opposition

The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement has hurt American workers, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will almost certainly do the same.

That was the message from members of Congress who came together on May 5 to highlight four years of data on the Korea deal released by the U.S. Census Bureau. It showed, among other things, that the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea (Asia's fourth-largest economy) has more than doubled thanks to surging imports and a reduction in American goods crossing the Pacific. By the government's own metric, that imbalance has cost U.S. workers more than 100,000 jobs.

"We were told the Korea trade deal was going to be different," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) of President Barack Obama's last free trade effort. "But those promises never became reality, and this data shows it."

"The Korea deal is the trade template for the TPP," said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), warning that the consequences of passing TPP couldn't be clearer. "Cities have been devastated by these trade agreements," she said.

The new numbers come at the worst possible time for free-traders in the Obama administration who have been fighting a flood of anti-trade rhetoric from the campaign trail as they've tried to sell Congress on the merits of the TPP.

Notably, Congress doesn't seem to be buying it. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the TPP's most vocal backers, has admitted that the outlook is "bleak" for the agreement even seeing a vote this year.

"The biggest problem right now is the political environment to pass a trade bill is worse than any time I've been in the Senate," he said in an online interview with the rural policy site Agri-Pulse. "We're right in the middle of this presidential election year, [and] the candidates are all against what the president has negotiated."

The TPP is a broad-based trade and investment agreement between the United States, Canada, Japan and nine other Pacific Rim countries. Like most trade deals, it aims to reduce tariffs on imports and exports and promises reforms in labor laws, environmental standards, human rights and intellectual property protection. But critics, including the IBEW, have long argued that it doesn't go far enough to protect U.S. jobs.

Even now, those opponents aren't willing to bet that the hostile political climate will slow down White House efforts to push it through Congress, perhaps in an anticipated so-called "lame duck" session after November's election.

"When they were selling the Korea trade agreement, [the administration] promised jobs, they promised exports and they promised enforcement," DeLauro said. "And with TPP, they're offering the same set of false promises.

"Voters," she said, "are concerned about stagnant wages, unemployment, currency manipulation and loss of manufacturing jobs. … The president must not try to sneak this agreement through in a lame duck session."

"The trade issue is vital in states like Ohio," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who represents the rust-belt state's 9th district, stretching from Toledo to Cleveland. "The TPP fight is affecting the U.S. Senate race there, and it's taken too long for the executive branch to catch up to the voters on this. It's come at the cost of too many people's livelihoods and too many jobs."

The new data on the Korean deal puts to rest, once and for all, President Obama's arguments that the North American Free Trade Agreement and others like it are a relic of past administrations. Despite promises that Korea and now TPP are new-era trade deals with worker protections and beefed-up enforcement, the census figures tell a wildly different tale.

"We've said all along that any new trade agreements need to be significantly different from ones that have cost American workers more than a million jobs over the last couple of decades," said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "This Korea data just proves that 'new-era' trade deals are the same as the old ones. TPP is a bad deal for working people and American jobs, and we're grateful to the members of Congress who are out there with us fighting to make sure it's never enacted."


The Port of Busan in South Korea is the world's fifth-busiest thanks to record exports resulting from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens to do even more damage to middle class jobs in America.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user amanderson.