US Elites Target Pension Funds

pensions6Report Exposes Right-Wing Tag Team Plot Against Pensions

Report Exposes Right-Wing Tag Team Plot Against Pensions

Isaiah J. Poole
September 26, 2013
Conservative activists are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis in order to both slash modest retiree benefits and preserve expensive corporate subsidies and tax breaks.

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News stories around the country have trumpeted a public pension “crisis” in various states, featuring elected officials who insist that these crises justify slashing the retirement benefits of public employees.What these stories usually don’t say is that conservative activists are manufacturing the perception of a public pension crisis in order to both slash modest retiree benefits and preserve expensive corporate subsidies and tax breaks.

Leading this effort is the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Sector Retirement Systems Project and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Their role in ginning up the sense of crisis, and in pushing state legislatures to dismantle pension systems that have served workers well for decades and could serve them well for decades more, is exposed in an Institute for America’s Future report released today, “The Plot Against Pensions.”

Pensions“This is the story not merely of two nonprofits, nor merely of one set of economic issues; it is a microcosmic tale of how, in the Citizens United age, politically motivated billionaires can quietly implement an ideological agenda in local communities across the country,” the report states.

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New Free Trade Agreement to Depress US Wages

 TPP banner
  • Using research widely accepted by economists who favor the TPP and similar agreements, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that the very small potential economic gains from the TPP projected by these economists would be outweighed, for the vast majority of U.S. wage and salary earners, by losses due to increasing inequality caused by increased trade.  Therefore, the vast majority of employees in the U.S. would suffer a net loss from the agreement.

  • The potential economic gains from TPP amount to a rounding error, according to research from the Peterson Institute of International Economics, which is cited by proponents of the TPP. This research projects that the TPP would generate only a 0.13 percent increase in GDP by 2025, about one hundredth of a percent of increased national income per year.

  • Taking into account the downward pressure on wages caused by so-called “free trade” agreements, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that the median U.S. worker’s wages could drop by 0.14 to 0.72 percent by 2025 if the TPP is implemented.

  • According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the long-term loss of GDP, in 2020,  from the ongoing failure to restore full employment in the U.S., is 25 times the size of the potential gains from the trade agreement.  The potential gains to GDP from the TPP are therefore very small as compared with other policy alternatives.

  • For the last twenty-five years income inequality has grown enormously while the wages of the typical (median) worker have stagnated, in part as a result of the free trade agreements that the U.S. has signed.  Today the U.S. has a higher rate of income inequality than other high-income countries.  The U.S. inequality gap is set to increase even more if the TPP is passed.

Death of an Adjunct

DuquesneUniversityDeath of an adjunct

Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83
September 18, 2013 12:06 am
By Daniel Kovalik

On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.

On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court.

For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she was mortified. She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never regained consciousness.

Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, “She was a professor?” I said yes. The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

Of course, what the caseworker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.

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Rep. Rob Matzie helps PA taxpayers save $5 million

Rep. Rob Matzie helps taxpayers save $5 million


HARRISBURG, Sept. 12 – State Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Beaver/Allegheny, is pleased that Treasurer Rob McCord has continued to deny payment on $3.4 million worth of invoices for a supposedly no-cost contract with Pennsylvania Interactive LLC., but he still has concerns over privacy implications, possible fees assessed to the public and the no-bid nature of the contract.

In April, Matzie wrote to state Treasurer Rob McCord asking him to halt the payments requested by the company. NICUSA, which is the parent company of Pennsylvania Interactive LLC, which has since amended its Securities and Exchange Commission filings  to remove $5.1 million in estimated revenue generated from the state and writing off amounts due from the commonwealth.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers should be pleased that more than $5 million was not diverted from the Department of Transportation when our roads and bridges need repair,” Matzie said. “The company’s recent SEC filings show they have concerns about the contract. How often does a government contractor turn down an offer to be paid millions of dollars if it actually believes it is legally owed the money?”

The Corbett administration awarded a no-bid contract last year to the company for the renovation and management of Pennsylvania’s state websites. Despite the millions of dollars invoiced by the company, the contract was supposed to use a self-funding model that would cost the state nothing.

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AFL-CIO Resolves to Organize the South

Union density is lowest in the South
Union density is lowest in the South

AFL-CIO resolves to organize the South

By Joe Atkins, Labor South

Delegates at the 2013 convention of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles this week adopted a a resolution proposed by the Savannah (Ga.) Regional Central Council “to develop a Southern organizing strategy” as “one of its top priorities” and one that will “include a long-term commitment to organize the South.”

Resolution 26 decries the fact that the U.S. labor movement “has never successfully developed a concerted and coordinated effort to organize workers in the 11 Southern states” of the Southern Region, thus “allowing the most conservative political forces in the South to operate without effectively being challenged by organized workers.”

The South today is “a major player in the new global economy,” the resolution says, “and has become a haven for US manufacturing, foreign investments and finance capital, and because of this reemergence is now playing an integral role in shaping US labor and social policies.”

Yet “corporations in the South have not only exploited Southern workers but have also been responsible for the negative environmental impact on many working class families, especially the African American, Latino, Native American, Asian and poor white communities.”

Conservative Southern politicians have okayed “billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives” to corporations “at the expense of these struggling communities.”

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Labor Embraces the New America

Labor Embraces the New America

Harold Meyerson
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
The Washington Post

 LOS ANGELES–Having banged its head against a wall for years with nothing to show for it but a headache, the American labor movement is devising a plan to bypass the wall altogether. During its quadrennial convention here this week, the AFL-CIO has acknowledged that the laws protecting employees who seek to join a union have been rendered so ineffectual that labor must come up with new ways to advance workers’ interests

With just 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce enrolled in unions in 2012, traditional collective bargaining has all but vanished from the economic landscape — taking raises, benefits, job security and much of the American middle class with it as it goes.
“We are a small part of the 150 million Americans who work for a living,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in his keynote address Monday. “We cannot win economic justice only for ourselves, for union members alone. It would not be right and it’s not possible. All working people will rise together, or we will keep falling together.”
There was a time when labor activists believed that the union movement would be the vehicle through which working people rose. For the time being, however, most labor activists don’t believe that’s possible. While they’re not abandoning traditional workplace organizing, they’re proclaiming a strategic shift.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Addresses AFL-CIO Convention
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Addresses AFL-CIO Convention

“We are going to expand the idea of collective bargaining,” said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco AFL-CIO. “You can have collective bargaining through legislation. You can have collective bargaining through ballot measures.”

Working in a coalition with community organizations, labor prevailed on San Francisco’s city government in 2008 to mandate that employers provide health insurance to their workers or pay the city to subsidize low-income residents’ purchase of coverage. This year, the coalition also persuaded a hospital chain seeking to build a new facility to staff it with union jobs and to provide affordable housing — in a city where such housing grows scarcer by the minute — as a condition for winning city approval to go ahead with its expansion.
By itself, labor could not have won these and kindred battles. “Even if all we cared about was our own contracts, we can’t even get those anymore without community assistance,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America.

Majority Sign UAW Cards at Chattanooga VW Plant

VW Chattanooga Plant
VW Chattanooga Plant

UAW: Majority at Tennessee VW plant have signed union cards

  • Bryce G. Hoffman
  • The Detroit News

Frankfurt, GermanyA majority of workers at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga Assembly Plant in Tennessee have signed cards in support of union representation in creating a German-style works council, according to United Auto Workers President Bob King.

“We’ve gone through a very positive organizing campaign down there. Now, we’re going to work through the recognition process with Volkswagen,” King told The Detroit News on Wednesday, praising the German automaker for having “as much integrity as I’ve ever seen a global company have.”

UAW Pres. Bob King
UAW Pres. Bob King

A Volkswagen spokesman at the plant declined to comment on the UAW claim of having signed up a majority of workers, referring instead to a letter issued by the company last week that confirmed it is in talks with the union and stated: “Volkswagen values the rights of its employees in all locations to an operational representation of interests.”

If the UAW succeeds in winning recognition from VW, it would be a major victory for the union, which has tried with little success to organize foreign automakers’ factories in the South. Labor experts say it could also offer an important new paradigm for union-management relations — not just in the auto industry, but for other industries as well.

“It is a major achievement on two levels,” said labor expert Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “First, this really sets the stage for a Chattanooga model — a highly competitive, pro-union model that has implications for other non-union automakers in the U.S. Second we’re seeing the introduction of a new model that is highly successful in Germany that has implications for other industries.”

In Germany, unions negotiate wages and benefits for their members just like their counterparts in the United States. But German “co-determination” laws require the establishment of elected work councils to handle plant-specific issues, such as work rules and job security. Those same laws give labor half the seats on each company’s governing supervisory board.

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AFL-CIO Convention Call for Improvements to Affordable Care Act

Resolution 54: AFL-CIO Convention Resolution on the Affordable Care Act

Submitted by the Building and Construction Trades Department, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the American Federation of Teachers

Referred to the Resolutions Committee
Referred to the Executive Council by the Resolutions Committee with the Recommendation that It Be Sent to the Convention for Adoption
Referred to the Convention by the Executive Council with a Recommendation for Adoption

WHEREAS, in 2009, the AFL-CIO Convention passed two health care resolutions – Health Care Reform Now and the Social Insurance Model for Health Care Reform – which reaffirmed the labor movement’s commitment to health care for all, ultimately through a single-payer system. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA);

WHEREAS, the AFL-CIO continues to support the ACA’s goal of securing high-quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans; three years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we reaffirm our commitment to the goal of affordable, quality health care for all but recognize that the ACA remains a work in progress;

WHEREAS, the ACA’s expansion of comprehensive health insurance to 25 million more Americans, support for affordability through expanded Medicaid eligibility and premium subsidies and insurance market reforms are clear gains for working families. The new law also has eliminated some of the worst insurance company abuses, cut costs for seniors, and appears to be contributing to lower rates for individual coverage in states like California and New York;

WHEREAS, the federal agencies administering the ACA have interpreted the Act in ways that are threatening the ability of workers to keep health care coverage through some collectively bargained, non-profit health care funds. Republican governors in many states have refused to participate in implementing the Act and are even actively blocking efforts to provide health care to all through Medicaid expansion;

WHEREAS, for decades before the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, such quality, affordable health coverage has been provided to workers and their families through non-profit multiemployer health plans negotiated between unions and participating employers, including the approximately 20 million individuals covered by such plans today;

WHEREAS, the health coverage provided through multiemployer plans has met the goals of the Affordable Care Act by providing portable, affordable, high-quality coverage for workers who would otherwise be left out of typical employer plans, including participants in industries where employment is mobile or part-time;

WHEREAS, multiemployer health plans have been attractive to employers because they provide predictable, consistent and cost-effective long-term health coverage for workers;

WHEREAS, multiemployer health plans have been attractive to employees because they provide a consumer-oriented plan design, portability, stability and flexibility;

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Sec’y Kerry Rejects Syria Offer to Surrender Chemical Weapons

Wedding Party in Chicago borrows anti-war signs for photo
Wedding Party in Chicago borrows anti-war signs for photo

Kerry Couldn’t Sell a Used Car

By davidswanson – Posted on 09 September 2013

After Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that President Bashar al-Assad avoid a war by handing over any chemical weapons his government possesses, Russia quickly seconded the motion, and Assad agreed to it.  Just as quickly, aparently panicked by the possible delay or prevention of missile strikes, Kerry’s staff put out this statement:

“Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.  His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”

Could Assad be lying?  Could he hope to stash away a hidden weapons stockpile? Yes, and then at least a U.S. attack would have been delayed and more time gained to work on preventing it.  But that’s not likely.  Inspectors are very good.  That’s why Prsident George W. Bush wanted them pulled out of Iraq, where they had done a stellar job and the weaponry been eliminated.  That could conceivably also be why President Barack Obama wanted them kept away from the site of the August 21st attack and wanted to send missiles into Syria before the inspectors reached any results.

So, to all appearances, Assad has immediately done what Kerry just declared impossible.  How reliable, then, are other assertions of which Kerry professes to be certain?

Is it really an important international norm that one nation should bomb another in support of fanatical terrorists and on the stated basis that people had been killed with the wrong variety of weapon?

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