This Week in Labor for 6/21

Most unions now back Obama

Unions that were neutral or backing Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries are quickly lining up in the Obama camp.

Among those that have just endorsed the Illinois senator’s presidential campaign are the United Auto Workers, the United Transportation Union and the Sheet Metal Workers. Also signaling that their unions will endorse Obama are Ed McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Gerald McAntee, president of AFSCME.

The UAW was neutral during the primary contests. The Steel Workers and the Mine Workers originally backed former Sen. John Edwards.

The latest moves bring the AFL-CIO very close to being able to make a federation-wide endorsement of Obama. The Change toWin federation has already done so. To endorse, the federation must have the votes of General Board members representing two thirds of its 9 million members.

Labor to Senate: “Don’t undermine health care’

The fight for national health care should result in universal, comprehensive and affordable heath care care for all without destroying the better aspects of the present employer-based health care system, the AFL-CIO says.

Speaking for the federation in early June in one of a series of Senate Finance Committee hearings on the state of U.S. health care, federation Executive Vice President Arlene Holt-Baker reminded lawmakers the present employer-based system covers the majority of U.S. residents.

While she advocated the solution the federation backs – a mixed private-public system with government regulating costs and providing insurance for those who can’t get private insurance – Holt-Baker said the present system should not be arbitrarily junked.

“As we work towards lowering costs and covering everyone, we must be sure reforms do not undermine employer coverage, which is the backbone of our health care system and covers 160 million Americans.”

Still no first responder plan

Seven years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed New York’s World Trade Center the federal government still has no plan for even registering, much less treating, workers rushed in to handle disasters.

The finding was included in a Government Accountability Office report issued in early June.

The GAO report says that the first thing the government must do when it sends first responders to a disaster is to register and count them. This was not done for workers at the World Trade Center who were exposed to toxic fumes, jet fuel, noxious gases and debris. The report also said the federal government must bear the main responsibility for the follow up monitoring and medical care of the workers.

U.S. trade unionists meet Chinese counterparts

Rank-and-file union leaders from Guangzhou in southeast China met recently with rank-and-file union leaders of the San Mateo, Calif. Airport Labor Coalition. The meetings were the first between rank-and-filers of the two countries. Last year a delegation of international union presidents from Change to Win, headed by Service Employees President Andrew Stern, met leaders of the All China Federation of Trade Unions.

The Chinese talked about recent developments in the Chinese labor movement including the new Labor Contract Law that took effect Jan. 1 and the new Labor Arbitration law that took effect May 1.

The Labor Contract Law requires firms to negotiate with their workers on a range of issues including wages and overtime. The Chinese government approved the measure despite opposition from U.S. multi-nationals, including Wal-Mart, that operate in the country.

The Chinese workers noted that they face problems connected with the move towards more of a market economy in their country and that during the past 30 years of economic reform workers have had to make great sacrifices. They said that the Communist Party is rethinking the balance between capital and labor and that the enactment of new labor laws was part of that change.

The Chamber is afraid!

Two top Chamber of Commerce officials were quoted in a recent issue of The Politico as saying their group will pump record amounts of money into the 2008 election campaign – more than the $73 million they spent in 2006. “We fear the impact of increased Democratic majorities in the next Congress and the effectiveness of labor’s drive in the elections. They are bolder, more aggressive, and more efficient than ever before,” said the Chamber’s general counsel.

Imagine how frightened they’ll be if their worst nightmare, the Employee Free Choice Act, becomes law.

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