Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Metal Trades Disappointed at NGS Restructure Announcement; Hopeful That a New Strategic Alternative at Avondale Can Emerg

The following is a statement from Ronald Ault, President of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO in response to the announcement by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding that it will consolidate its shipbuilding capacity into its Pascagoula, Mississippi shipyard.

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s announcement that it will consolidate its Gulf Shipbuilding operation is disappointing and regrettable. The Metal Trades Department recognizes the inevitability of that news given the Navy’s earlier decision to constrain its shipbuilding budget, but that doesn’t make the potential impact on workers at the Avondale yard any less painful. Nor does it make a total shutdown inevitable. The Metal Trades and a number of our key affiliates—specifically the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB)—began a serious campaign to sustain Avondale on May 10, 2010, but we were cautioned against going “public” with our concerns at that time by the Company and members of Congress, each of whom told us that publicity might upset “delicate negotiations” seeking a solution. Obviously, those authorities were unable to achieve that solution.

The economy of the Gulf region is on life support. Shipbuilding is the largest single employer in the region. The combined impact of the Metal Trades-represented Northrop Grumman shipyards in New Orleans and Pascagoula is $12.6 billion—six times that of the seafood industry. If Avondale, which represents 40 percent of the region’s shipbuilding industry, disappears—the economic impact will be devastating. We can’t blame shipbuilding woes on the oil spill or on a catastrophic storm; but we can say that the demise of Gulf Coast shipbuilding is the result of neglect—benign or otherwise. Regardless of the cause, it is an unacceptable outcome.

We reiterate, for the benefit of the Obama Administration, Congress, elected officials at every level and the American people, America needs a shipbuilding industry. We are rapidly nearing the tipping point where any further loss of capacity may mean that the industry could go from shallow breathing into a comatose state. Any shutdown of a large shipbuilding facility corrodes our strategic national interest and ripples throughout our economy subtracting good paying jobs not just in direct ship construction in the Gulf region, but in the thousands of large and small enterprises that feed the shipbuilding industry’s needs for components. America has neither the resources nor the national resolve to recreate such resources from scratch.

It is clear that New Orleans and its surrounding areas can ill afford to lose one of the last reservoirs of decent middle class jobs that exist today. The economic circumstances for this area cry out for attention and urgent action. We stand ready to help.

We intend to hold Northrop Grumman to its promise to work to explore alternative uses for the facility even before work on the two remaining Navy vessels now under construction.

We will encourage collaboration among private investors, elected officials at the federal state and local level, and the Obama Administration, to work with us to develop a strategic alternative to the complete dissolution of the Avondale facility. We believe that—through a combination of innovation, vision and courage—a new enterprise can emerge that can utilize the skills of the Avondale workforce to address urgent national needs for shipbuilding and energy applications.

It would only take a small measure of policy adjustment—such as stricter enforcement of the Jones Act, especially as it applies to the offshore oil industry; and DOD’s abandonment of its long-term ship leasing policy—to breathe new life into private shipbuilding. We believe that Avondale could economically produce ships for a domestic market as long as that domestic market can be nurtured by rational and stable policies.

Among the other options that can and should be pursued would be the conversion of portions of the Avondale yard to construction of containment vessels for nuclear facilities. At present, there is no domestic source for those vessels and their construction process is not significantly different from that of shipbuilding. The Metal Trades and our affiliates have been suggesting these remedies in various forms for over two decades.
The Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO is an umbrella organization comprised of 17 national and international unions. Chartered in 1908, the Department negotiates collective bargaining agreements and coordinates representation in shipyards, nuclear facilities, manufacturing, mining and petrochemical operations throughout the United States.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Silent Majority: Why Don’t the Smart Southerners Speak Up?

Ron Ault
June 17, 2010
I happened to catch Congressman Stupack’s hearing into the causes of BP’s “accident” today. Then I watched the CNN coverage with Gulf Coast residents’ responding from a local diner in Metairie, Louisiana. I kept thinking “I sure hope there is a ’silent majority‘ of Americans out there, otherwise we are in deep do-do.”

I know the media sometimes deliberately picks the absolute dumbest “bubba” they can find to interview on the air to make inflammatory remarks, but come on…this guy sounded just like a Sarah Palin Tea Party nut case.

The man chosen by the media to be the public representative of the entire region’s views was a perfect example of the old adage “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” He was lamenting the “fact” that the oil spill was worse than Hurricane Katrina. Duh! Thousands of human beings died in Katrina, dude, many after the storm passed because there was no planning or logistics prepositioned to get immediate assistance and supplies to the survivors! It took five days to get drinking water to the Superdome after the storm passed. There is a big difference in the federal response to this man-made disaster.

But, CNN chose to spotlight this guy who accused President Obama of caving in to unions because he won’t waive the Jones Act and allow foreign vessels to come in and clean up the spill…Where do these people get this from? He must be watching “fair and balanced” Fox TV. Did he think a onetime cleanup was going to fix the millions of gallons of oils still spewing from the well? Did he think that there are millions of foreign built vessels lined up, just waiting to come in and clean up the oil? This guy was saying that under former President Bush’s leadership the Jones Act was waived for the oil industry. Yes, that is the one thing this guy said that was a fact. George W. Bush did that.

Does anyone out there know anything about the Jones Act? Ignorance is bliss but once in a while the networks should do a little bit of fact checking before they broadcast what they heard someone else say. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but broadcasters have an obligation to at least refrain from spreading mis-information, especially if the source is a man-on-the-street.

“Ditto heads” simply repeating what shock jocks Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck say on a national TV interview gives an entire region a bad name. The Jones Act is an 80-year-old law designed to insure that America has a shipbuilding industry and a merchant marine to build and crew Navy ships in time of war. It requires that vessels engaged in US, port-to-port trade, be built and assembled entirely in US Shipyards, crewed by US crews and owned by US citizens.

Bush gave his friends in the oil and gas industry a pass from the requirements of the Jones Act. That is why the Deepwater Horizon wasn’t built in a shipyard in Louisiana or Mississippi. The drilling platform was built in South Korean-owned by Transocean, a Swiss company, not an American Company that would observe U.S. law…And that is why British Petroleum could “drill baby, drill” with little or no oversight.

Jones Act waivers, once given, are difficult—if not impossible to retrieve. President Obama had little to do with anything associated with the Deepwater Horizon disaster except to try to hold BP accountable. The Jones Act does permit foreign vessels to operate in coastwise trade if there are insufficient US domestic vessels available for the needs. There is no need to grant additional waivers under the Jones Act. They already exist, but “Fair and Balanced” Fox TV and CNN didn’t tell you that, did they?

Not one Gulf Coast job was generated in the building of the Deep Water Horizon even though the largest private employers in Mississippi and Louisiana are the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi and the Avondale Shipyard just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Both shipyards (and many more Gulf Coast shipbuilding facilities) could have easily built this rig, but why give American folks jobs when you can build it cheaper in South Korea as long as you don’t have to follow US Jones Act laws? Cheaper, faster, cut corners to save money. Isn’t that BP’s track record in this disaster. Save money even if it costs lives, ruins the environment and kills American jobs?

The people on the Gulf Coast don’t know what they want President Obama to do about BP’s mess. They criticize him for not showing up on day one after the explosion. They criticize him for not meeting with every man, woman and child in the area when he does come down to the Gulf Coast to survey what the Coast Guard and BP crews are doing about the tar balls and oil washing up on the beaches and in the marshes. They criticize him for not getting money to reimburse residents who have lost their jobs and livelihood in the region fast enough. Then they accuse him of an illegal “shakedown” for making BP put up a 20 Billion dollar “slush fund,” as Congressman Joe Barton put in the congressional hearing as he apologized to BP saying he was “ashamed.” (And, Joe Barton should be ashamed!)

You hear these folks (and the Tea Partiers) say that they are opposed to the President’s policies and they are going to “take our country back” in the next election….That’s an incomplete sentence. Who are these folks going to take the country back from? There are some in the South who are still fighting the Civil War and still sore about desegregation.

What they are really saying is, no matter what President Obama does or doesn’t do, they are not going to support him. Obama didn’t carry the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama in the 2008 Presidential election and it would be difficult for him to have much support there today no matter what he does about the oil in the Gulf.

Boy, I sure hope that there is a big, silent majority of Americans that are out there thoughtful and making intelligent decisions, and not a majority of “ditto heads” blindly following the talk radio hate jocks and the flame throwing race baiters.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Challenges are Opportunities to Succeed

Ron Ault
June1, 2010
The Deepwater Horizon disaster spewing raw crude oil into the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico points out the problem with allowing private enterprise lead in developing cutting edge technology in energy or any other critical commodity. As we have seen, a massive failure can bring a nation to its knees and arouse public opinion on a grand scale. The BP spill is to the oil industry what Chernobyl was to Russia’s nuclear energy program. Chernobyl, with the catastrophic pile meltdown and fire that killed hundreds and sickened thousands over a generation came about a decade after our own near miss nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. The major difference between the U.S. experience and Russia’s is that the reactor containment at Three Mile Island worked.

The Deepwater Horizon was built in a South Korean shipyard. It was owned and operated by Transocean, a Swiss company. Are bells going off anywhere? Are the warning lights flashing, America? The Jones Act is an 80-year-old law that requires ships engaged in commerce in the US coastal trade to be built in the US, owned by US owners and have US crews. This is the US Merchant Marine. In hearings into the cause of the explosions and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, Congressman Gene Taylor specifically asked the Obama Administration to invoke the Jones Act for all the oil and gas drilling in the Gulf.

The other two corporate entities implicated in the Gulf disaster were Haliburton, now headquartered in Dubai; and BP, incorporated in the UK and headquartered in London.

We have a shortage of naval shipbuilding work to keep our six major U.S. shipyards in business. There is a discussion about Avondale Shipyard of New Orleans— one of only six major US Shipyards, being sold or closed, Avondale and its sister shipyard, Ingalls, located some 120 miles away in Pascagoula, Mississippi, are the two largest private employers in Louisiana and Mississippi. Both yards are capable of building complex combat vessels for the U.S. Navy, and that has been their forte.

Avondale has built commercial ships, including double hulled oil tankers for the US Alaskan oil trade after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound. No one has designed and built deep water equipment for a disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon. Why not? Why doesn’t the US government develop the design and build the safety equipment necessary to cap runaway oil well in deepwater? No one can argue we don’t need it. We could put thousands of the people who live in the area being slimed by the oil spill tomorrow morning to work building this equipment. The people directly affected would have a stake in the development and construction of the equipment that would protect their very way of life and their quality of life.

With BP’s oil billowing into the waters of the Gulf, whose job is it to staunch the flow? Americans and the press are badgering the federal government to “do something” about it, but the federal government doesn’t have the technology because it hasn’t ever focused on a problem of this dimension. Until now, it was the domain of private industry. Well, that hasn’t worked out so well now, has it?

If we want bold decisive action to plug the hole and stop the oil spewing into the Gulf- this is it! Turn American ingenuity loose and give American shipbuilders the job of designing and building the deep water disaster response for this and similar drilling disasters just waiting to happen in our costal waters. Saying this will never happen again is sticking our head in the sand and ignoring the facts that say otherwise. This challenge is an opportunity for success, let’s get started!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

America for Sale

Ron Ault
Memorial Day, 2010

Are you paying attention to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens the entire Gulf, all of Florida and even the East Coast?  Republicans are saying this is Obama’s Katrina!  What is the Federal Government doing about the oil spill? Why hasn’t Obama taken over and plugged the leak?

Duh! What is wrong with this picture?  Has everyone in America eaten a stupid pill? Dumbass is somewhat contagious, but this is pure stupidity on a grand scale!

How can the federal government be responsible for what the private sector does to us?  If our food is poisonous, is it the fault of the federal government?  If the medicines we take cause cancer, is it the fault of the federal government?

Didn’t we sell yours and mine mineral rights on our public lands to energy companies?   Yes, we did. We voted to do it .…You and I agreed to give millions of dollars worth of public mineral rights to millions of acres of public land for just pennies an acre mineral lease rights to these companies.  And then we agreed to deregulate these very same industries so they didn’t have to invest any money in safeguards against neglect and unsafe mining and drilling techniques that kill workers and poison our air and water. YES, we did, don’t deny it!

And we are still demanding more – look at the “Tea Party” demonstrations. What do they demand: smaller government; no taxes; “take back our government;” deregulate; no rules; free markets… stop “socialism!”

Well, Gulf Coast residents, welcome to the returns on the investment that the “Free Market” oil industry brings you! Foreign ownership, foreign built rigs, foreign technology, all used to drill and then when all hell breaks loose and millions of barrels of crude oil is spilling into the US coastal waters, it is the United States federal government that is supposed to jump in and bail out BP and the foreign governments who own these companies?

Remember what the eminent Grover Nordquist said would be the ultimate in conservative government: Make it small enough to drown in a bathtub. Now, the bathtub is full of oil, and we’re drowning in it!

Didn’t we vote for the Contract for America when Newt Gingrich and his Republicans pledged to roll back regulations, make government smaller less intrusive that would free up investments and be more business friendly?  Didn’t we vote for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?  Didn’t we go to war in the Middle East in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom to keep the oil flowing? Didn’t we support those politicians who deregulated the coal mining and oil exploration industry? Didn’t we vote to re-elect these same Senators and Congressmen and women term after term, rewarding them for their votes? Meanwhile, these lawmakers de-regulated, dismantled and removed federal safeguards from the banks and energy companies that are harming us today. 

Free enterprise isn’t free for you and me. It is free from regulation – free from federal inspectors checking up on cheats and unscrupulous businesses; free from mine inspections and meat inspectors; free from DOL Wage and Hour inspectors, free from CDC scientists working on new vaccines that only affect a few thousand Americans (so it isn’t profitable for drug companies to do); free from border patrol and law officers; free from public school teachers and fire fighters; unburdened of all those federally-supported services that our taxes provide. Wall Street is lobbying our Congress so they don’t have to pay the same taxes as you and I pay. And, 36 lawmakers lined up to support Wall Street over you and me…including some Blue Dog Democrats who should be voted out of office, like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. 

But I digress…America is for sale. Private industry has waged an expensive decades-old public relations campaign to brainwash the general public into believing that any government regulation is bad and only totally free enterprise, free trade is good. Kinda like saying sin is great and virtue is bad. Say it loud enough and repeat it often enough on every TV channel and soon it is no longer an ad, or just an opinion – it is the truth….it is the Golden Rule: Those with the gold rule.

Don’t you get it? America is being sold to foreign interests every day of the week. We are a third world country being mined by foreign national governments for our raw materials. Huge tracts of American farms are foreign government-owned and the crops harvested in the USA go directly to those nations…Same story for our forests. Raw logs are loaded in ships and shipped directly overseas for raw materials; not as a finished, valued-added product. Why should we be surprised that crude oil is being drilled in the deep water US coastal Gulf by foreign government owned businesses like BP, the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, the United Arab Emirates, China Development Fund, etc? As Sarah says: Drill, Baby, Drill!

Almost nothing that has benefitted Main Street America in our entire history is from private enterprise.  Required reading in every school in America should be Jeff Madrick’s “Case for Big Government,” a book written in layman’s language, (so that even an old country Boy from Arkansas like me can understand it) that details his conclusion that a public relations campaign has been systematically waged against America so we vote against our own interests and with greedy corporations who, with our help, legally steal money from the general public (that’s us).    

Jeff Madrick is the editor of “Challenge” magazine and senior fellow at the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. He creates a fact-filled, “connect the dots” road map for every day citizens to understand the complexities of economics in plain language. After reading this book, you will clearly see the lies and deception heaped upon America by the greedy and unscrupulous mining and energy corporations who use public lands to make billions of dollars of pure profits that belong to you and me, and then avoid paying anything for the land and avoiding taxes on their profits. Incredible! 

So shut up America. You asked for this. You paid for it. You voted for this, and you continue to support the system that is dumping millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf. You made the deal; so live with it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorial Day Message

Ron Ault May 23, 2010

The last Monday in May has been observed as the Memorial Day federal holiday since 1971.  Before then, it was known as “Decoration Day” to decorate the graves and monuments that honor our fallen servicemen and women.  This observance goes all the way back to 1871 to honor the dead servicemen who served in the Civil War. 

This history of Memorial Day shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same, especially when we are in a temporary time of peace between the numerous wars our nation has fought since 1871.

Today, the  public’s perception is that we are at peace with other nations, although that isn’t entirely true.  We are at war and it is with nations; not just a loose group of so-called terrorist groups;  al Qaeda  may be the face of their surrogate, but these terrorists are sponsored and supported by nation states hell bent on harming America. At the same time, we are in the worst economic recession/depression since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

2010 looks an awful lot like the state of the world in 1938, before World War II.  History has a way of repeating itself. The world of the “haves” and the “have nots” during the Great Depression actually triggered World War II. Adolph Hitler came to power united behind a starving Germany that was largely unemployed. Today, we are seeing riots in Europe, political uprisings in the Far East and an angry American electorate that is voting long-term incumbents out of office.  We have sleeper cell terrorists attempting to bomb New York City’s Times Square just to kill innocent civilians.

The United States Constitution specifically requires the US Congress to provide a Navy for the national defense…not the Department of Defense; not the President of the US; but Congress. Yet, in these dangerous and uncertain times, what is happening to our Navy?

The Navy’s recently released 30-year shipbuilding plan is fraught with faulty assumptions that are based purely on shortages of shipbuilding funding. And, if Congress simply rubber stamps the recommendations of this report, it will be giving up its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide a Navy to auditors and bean counters.

It costs a lot of money to have a modern two ocean Navy and our nation doesn’t have any money to spare. The war in Iraq bankrupted America. This war has actually lasted longer than WWII —it is the longest and most expensive war we have ever had. To shift money to fight the war of our choice in Afghanistan, the US has decided to cancel new defense programs saying that no other nation on Earth has the technology we currently have in our military, so we don’t need new systems. This decision will have long term consequences.

By cutting the development of future weapons systems we are dismantling our national defense industrial base, and by doing so we give up our ability to build our own weapons systems we will need to defend ourselves.

Any nation that cannot build their own defense weapons cannot be considered a world power and must buy whatever weapons other nations are willing to sell to them.  This is especially true in the Naval Shipbuilding industrial base. America has only six major shipyards that are capable of building complex large deck Naval combat ships and submarines; listed from West to East: National Steel Shipyard owned by General Dynamics Corporation located in San Diego, California; Avondale Shipyards, owned by Northrop Grumman Corporation and located just outside New Orleans, Louisiana; Ingalls Shipyard owned by Northrop Grumman Corporation located in Pascagoula, Mississippi; Newport News Shipbuilding, owned by Northrop Grumman and located in Newport News, Virginia; Electric Boat, owned by General Dynamics Corporation and located in Groton, Connecticut; and Bath Iron Works, owned by General Dynamics and located in Bath, Maine.

Newport News is the only shipyard currently building nuclear powered aircraft carriers and Electric Boat is a nuclear submarine yard. Bath Iron Works, Ingalls, Avondale and National Steel Shipyards are building the non nuclear, combat surface ships, including destroyers, amphibious ships, fleet underway replenishment ships (formerly called fleet oilers), minesweepers, frigates and cruisers.

We haven’t built a modern icebreaker in decades and considering the Russian race for oil exploration in the Arctic Circle, seems pretty short sighted.

The modernization of the aging Coast Guard fleet and the US coastal trade, Jones Act fleet of US Merchant Marine ships requires more than six shipyards, but without federal support for such programs, America will lose the last vestiges of heavy industry manufacturing left in America and we will have to buy our ships from China and South Korea with money we borrow from them.

What most Americans don’t realize is that these shipyards are the largest private employers in their respective states and generate and additional $7.80 for every dollar they spend in economic activity in their regions and within the shipbuilding supplier base.

The income taxes on wages paid to our workers offset some of the costs of Naval and Coast Guard purchases, but no one accounts for that.

Every single state in the US has industries that supply the US shipbuilding industry. Every job in these shipyards is a good-paying, middle class job.

When all variables are factored in the economic pie that is sliced up, I submit that the economic impact of shipbuilding is self-sustaining. Once any of these shipyards is closed, there will never be another shipyard built in the United States again.

No one can afford to invest the billions of dollars into the infrastructure to build a shipyard, and the environmental permits would NEVER be approved to dig and build dry docks, dredge berthing and outfitting spaces, waterfront piers, machines, electrical conduits, piping, sheet metal and steel fabrication shops and massive heavy lift cranes and weight handling equipment used in modular construction of massive metal ship structures.

America’s shipyards are national treasures and should not belong to private enterprise, but they do and as such they are operated on a supply and demand basis. They must make a profit or be closed, sold and disposed of, regardless of the impact on our national security.  Had America closed down its shipbuilding base between the crash of 1929 and December 7, 1941, we would have the axis flags of Germany and Japan flying over Washington, D.C. today. History ignored is history to be repeated.

This Memorial Day as we honor our fallen and our currently serving American armed forces, let’s not put future generations at risk by short sighted defense policies based on budget rather than on our national needs. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld candidly said when asked by news reporters about why our Humvees were not ordered built with IED armor to prevent unnecessary US causalities: “We go to war with the Army we have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Our shipbuilders build every U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ship knowing it is their sons and daughters who will crew and fight in those ships.
#          #          #

Friday, May 21, 2010

America’s Fractious Two Party System

by Ron Ault
May 20, 2010
Results from the so-called Super Tuesday elections are in.  A friend of workers, Senator Arlen Specter, lost his bid to be elected as a Democrat and will retire after 30 years of service. Senator Specter is caught up in the anger of America at a broken two-party political system that doesn’t work. To work there must be a willingness on the part of the minority party to abide by the will of the majority. And both sides must be willing to compromise to achieve bipartisanship.  Instead the partisan rancor has been ratcheted up a notch and nothing is coming out of the Senate where Democrats hold a razor thin majority over Republicans.
In the 2008 general election Americans voted for a change.  In the special elections last Tuesday they continued to vote for change.  Hello, professional politicians, didn’t you hear the voters? Where is the CHANGE we voted for?
Why is there a so called “Tea Party”?  Why are incumbents losing elections right and left?  CHANGE is what we want; not more of the same. Using a minority status and abusing the rules of the Senate to block any change in government is a sure fire strategy to piss off America and that is exactly what Senator Mitch McConnell’s political strategy has been.  McConnell believes that if his party can block everything in the Senate and mire down government so that nothing gets done voters will blame the Democrats and vote for Republicans in the mid term elections. McConnell’s strategy is purely self-serving, hard-ball politics above the good of the public. In carrying that strategy out, the Republicans are hurting America in the worst economic recession in our lifetime. And this negative strategy of could not have come at a worse time for our nation. We need bold, new ideas from our legislators to recover from the recession, not gridlock.
The voters are smarter than McConnell thinks they are.  Voters say throw them all out. So we are seeing the baby thrown out with the bath water, so to speak in the special elections.  Since there are more Democrats running for re-election in the 2010 mid term elections than Republicans McConnell’s strategy might work- but not as he intended.
America wanted to change the direction we were headed under Bush- so far, Senator McConnell has blocked the will of the 2008 election. How is it possible for a minority to block the will of a majority?  Want to know the answer? The rules of the Senate empower a single Senator to put a hold on confirmations of Presidential appointments, effectively stopping the President from putting his new government in place.  The rules of the Senate allow for endless debate unless a “super majority” of 60 votes to invoke cloture and end debate. These rules are not part of our constitution, they are made up by the Senate. They are not really required and should be scrapped in today’s poisoned partisanship climate.
Gridlock strategy is frustrating the base on both the left and the right. The outgrowth is parties within the parties—the Tea Partiers, Club for Growth and others among Republicans and, among Democrats, a range of political approaches—from “Blue Dogs” to “Progressives”. This factionalism weakens the mainstream of each of the two parties and encourages extremists to hijack party platforms that, for better or worse, express the vision and ideals of a political party. In place of platforms, the extremists find it safer, easier and more appealing to play to anger and frustration—in other words, demagoguery in place of idealism. Although we continue to maintain that we have a two party system, the reality is that we have a multi-party system, but the two institutionalized parties retain total control over the fund raising and organizational machinery.
What America really needs is to abandon the two party political system, but neither party is willing to do that. Both political parties like the system in place. They like being able to block elections and stymie the will of the majority of voters so they don’t have to listen to you and I. Change is something neither political party wants.  America is in deep doo doo.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Anti Worker Policies that Kill the Middle Class

By Ron AultMetal Trades Department, AFL-CIO

May 7, 2010

The Bush Administration left us a lot of excess baggage in anti-worker federal policies. One especially onerous policy came out of the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy. It was proposed in order to eliminate defined benefit pension plans and post retirement health care programs for all the contract workers who perform the nation’s nuclear weapons work. Organized labor blocked the policy by having Congress pass a bill that said in essence that DOE could not spend any funds to implement that policy. Shortly afterward, then-DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman met with me and several other national labor leaders, including then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, to tell us that DOE was withdrawing the DOE directive over defined benefit pensions.

We relaxed and moved on to other battles. Big mistake. DOE was secretly implementing the directive by including it within the procurement bid process, called “solicitation for bids,” that would require any successful contractor to implement the DOE/NNSA policy that Secretary Bodman told us they were withdrawing.

We worked night and day to elect a worker friendly administration in 2008 to stop attacks on workers and the elimination of a middle class in America. We welcomed President Obama and applauded his appointment of Secretary Chu as Energy Secretary.

On January 21, 2009, I sent Secretary Chu a letter asking for an opportunity to sit down with him over the issue of DOE policies that were harmful to workers we represent. In June, almost exactly ix months later, I received a cryptic email thanking me for my communication to Secretary Chu, but due to his busy schedule he could not accept my invitation for a meeting. In the meantime we were locked in battles at DOE Sandia National Laboratory with Lockheed (DOE’s prime contractor that runs the lab for them) over the elimination of defined benefit pension for workers that have had this provision in their union contract at Sandia for more than fifty years. The defined benefit pension plan at Sandia is virtually free. It currently operates at no cost to the government and it is currently overfund by 167% (as of May 17, 2010) AND WILL NOT REQUIRE ANY ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTION IN THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE! Apparently, for DOE, facts should not get in the way of a policy. In this case, the overfunded status was irrelevant for DOE.

The agency insisted that the contractors take away the defined benefit pensions in collective bargaining negotiations even if it meant a strike and required that the employer start a new defined contribution pension program (a 401 (K) program) that actually increased the costs to the government and added to the federal budget deficit.

The Metal Trades took a strike vote at Sandia, but the bargaining unit turned it down in face of the worst recession in modern history.

Same story at DOE Hanford in Richland, Washington; at the Oak Ridge Tennessee facility; and at all other DOE/NNSA nuclear weapons programs, in addition to our Idaho Falls Naval Nuclear Reactor facility that is a joint Navy/DOE facility. For more than two years now Secretary Chu has refused to meet with me over these DOE anti-worker policies even though he has met with many of our Metal Trades Council and Atomic Trades Council local presidents when he makes visits to the many thousands of Metal Trades Department-represented workers at all these DOE locations.

On Good Friday this past month before the Easter Holiday, NNSA/DOE posted on their website a new requirement for contractor bids on a combined operations and maintenance contract our Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant in Amarillo, Texas; our Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge Tennessee; and, within two years, at the DOE Savannah River Weapons Complex in South Carolina. The plan is to link these operations together under a single contract, with a new provision that the successful contractor will have the “flexibility” (for the first time in history) not to hire the present employees, who have decades of seniority and valuable experience after (in many cases) decades of working at these DOE facilities for every previous DOE contractor. Even worse, the successful contractor is free to set wages and benefits without regard to the rates of pay and benefits contained in our collective bargaining agreements.

How many thousands of highly skilled, high security, nuclear qualified employees could this affect? What classifications will be affected? Will this be a wholesale replacement of the entire present workforces in all three locations with brand new kids fresh out of high school? Hell, don’t ask me. I am only the National President of the largest labor organization representing workers within NNSA- they haven’t seen fit to even brief me or any of our unions. We read about this just like John Q. Public did.

I recently wrote DOE Secretary Chu a letter similar to the January 21, 2009 letter I previously had sent to him, again asking for a meeting to discuss these disturbingly anti-worker developments by his Department of government. We haven’t heard a word from DOE.