ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Jobs with Justice held its first Workers Rights Board hearing here June 8 at the Ethical Society of St. Louis. It was entitled “St. Louis Confronts the Recession” and was co-sponsored by the Ethical Action Committee and the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Workers Rights Board is a panel of religious, community and labor leaders. It was established in the hopes of enhancing the democratic rights of working people. It seeks to build a community-based alternative to the National Labor Relations Board.

The hearing was made up of four main issues: workforce and retirees, low-income and community health care, globalization and immigration.

Don Giljum, a member of Operating Engineers Local 148, gave some background information. He said, “91 percent of all employers force employees to watch anti-union propaganda, 80 percent hire anti-union consultants and over $300 million is spent by employers every year to block organizing drives.”

The first person to speak concerning workforce issues was Doris James, a member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 50. Local 50 is currently in contract negotiations with the Contract Cleaners Association (CCA), an association of eight cleaning companies including Spann Cleaning Co. James said, “I’ve worked for Spann for 14 years. I make $6.40 an hour. I’m 72 years old. I work hard and I deserve better.”

Myrna Fichtenbaum spoke about social security. She said that “social security is the jewel in the crown of social services” and has only a 1 percent administrative cost. Over 300,000 people, 58 percent of them women, receive Social Security in Missouri, she said. “To privatize social security,” Fichtenbaum continued, “would be to break the social contract between government and its people.”

Rev. Mike Vosler of the Workers Rights Board said, “It is outrageous that a pattern of poverty exists as a common part of our system. We need to start talking about a maximum wage. The amount of wealth involved is obscene. CEO wages have risen 500 percent.”

Dr. Katie Plax, of Metropolitan Congregations United, gave some startling information concerning health care. She said, “there are over 173,000 uninsured people in Missouri. And these numbers reflect real people – mothers, wives, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, friends and co-workers.”

Lindsay Champagne, who is on the Patient Board of Connect Care, said, “You cannot make the needs of the people fit into a bottom-line budget.” She also said if you provide goods and services in the United States you “must be required to provide health care.”

Speaking about the effects of globalization, Kitty Loepker, of the United Steelworkers of America, said that “since 1997, 33 steel-mills have filed bankruptcy. Over 125,000 people have lost their healthcare coverage and pensions.” Loepker blamed the bankruptcies on foreign steel flooding the domestic market and on multinational corporations shifting production to other nations to cut labor costs and to break unions. “Since March,” Loepker continued, “one more steel mill has filed bankruptcy. The one where I work, National Steel.”

Joan Suarez, Workers Rights Board coordinator, said, “This isn’t just a hearing. It is a first step to creating a climate of change.”

The author can be reached at tonpec2000@yahoo.com

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