Tax cuts result in big profits for AT&T, workers get layoffs and concession demands

At an annual Tax Day demonstration in Washington DC, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) criticized the corporate tax cuts passed in December.

Union leaders said that the tax cut produced billions of windfall profits for corporate giants like AT&T and gave them incentives to offshore and outsource good paying, working class jobs.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was an enthusiastic supporter of the tax cuts, which have proven to be especially good for the company.

AT&T reported a $29.5 billion profit in 2017, a 126 percent increase over 2016 when the company reported $13 billion in profits.

The tax cut was a big reason for AT&T’s enormous profits.

Morningstar reports that “the corporate-tax overhaul, a long held goal of Chief Executive Randall Stephenson, helped AT&T book a $19 billion profit in the fourth quarter (of 2017), though its revenues slipped by 0.4 percent.”

Shortly after the tax bill passed in December, Stephenson promised that the company would invest its savings to create thousands of new jobs, but four days later on Christmas Eve, AT&T notified workers that it was eliminating thousands of jobs across the US.

One of the workers who received a layoff notice was Merle Milton, CWA Local 4004 president in Detroit.

AT&T told Milton and 114 other union employees at its Detroit call center that it was closing the call center and laying off the workers. Earlier in 2017, AT&T closed another Detroit call center eliminating 53 union jobs.

“This December, AT&T announced that they were closing the call center where I’ve worked for 25 years,” Milton said. “My co-workers and I worked hard to provide quality customer service and help grow AT&T into the successful company it is today. But instead of rewarding us for our dedication, AT&T is pulling out of our community and taking our jobs overseas–undermining customer service and hurting hardworking families. Workers deserve better, AT&T customers deserve better, and cities like Detroit deserve better.”

Milton and the Detroit workers weren’t alone.

Larry Robbins, vice president of CWA Local 4900, told the Indianapolis Star that, “we believe there’s more than 4,000 people AT&T has (notified of layoffs) across the country.”

CWA said that many of these lost jobs are being sent overseas where workers are “paid pennies on the dollar relative to call center workers in the US,” and it appears that the new tax law is facilitating these job losses.

A recently released report by the Congressional Budget Office  (CBO) says that the new tax code gives tax breaks to companies that offshore tangible assets. Tangible assets include things such as factories, office buildings, and call centers.

Doing so, states the CBO, “may increase corporations’ incentives to locate tangible assets abroad.”

CWA is supporting legislation to end tax breaks that encourage companies to shift jobs overseas.

The bill titled the “No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act” is sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse  of Rhode Island.

Those that still have jobs at AT&T have found that the company is acting as if it were in financial trouble rather than flush with tax-cut cash.

AT&T is seeking concessions as it negotiates a new collective bargaining agreements with two of its bargaining units–AT&T Midwest and AT&T Legacy T.

The company is demanding what the union calls “unprecedented” increases to workers’ health care costs, weaker pension benefits, and more outsourcing of union jobs.

Lisa Bolton, CWA’s vice president for telecommunications and technologies called AT&T’s concession demands “insulting.”

“AT&T made nearly $30 billion in profits last year, and is reaping major benefits from the passage of the corporate tax cut bill,” Bolton said. “They can afford to keep good family supporting jobs in our communities instead of laying off workers and sending their work to low-wage contractors.”

The two contracts that cover 14,000 workers have expired, but the union and company continue to negotiate.

Workers at the two bargaining units have authorized a strike if the two sides can’t reach a fair agreement.

“Our members remember the big promises that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made if the corporate tax cut bill passed, and now we’re holding AT&T to those promises,” said CWA District 4 Vice President Linda L. Hinton. “AT&T should not underestimate CWA members. They are ready to do whatever it takes to get a fair contract. . . , including going on strike if we aren’t able to make progress at the bargaining table.”

 

 

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Union finds pay discrimination at LA Times

A report by the new journalists’ union at the Los Angeles Times finds that women and journalists of color at the newspaper are under paid.

Last January, the Times journalist voted to form a union and bargain collectively with their employer.

In order to prepare for its first negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement, the union, the LA Times News Guild-CWA, requested pay data from the Time’s owner Tribune Online Content, better known as Tronc.

After reviewing the data, the union issued a report on its findings.

A summary of the report states that “Tronc has underpaid women and journalists of color by thousands of dollars a year at the Los Angeles Times, suggesting systemic salary gaps by race and gender.”

The union released the report last week to its members, and it angered employees in the newsroom.

“I’ve long thought (the Times) underpays women and people of color. But to see the numbers in this (union) report is infuriating,” tweeted a Latina employee.

“It’s so grim to be able to mathematically quantify exactly how much my company undervalues me and dozens of my talented, hardworking coworkers,” tweeted another female employee.

The union received pay information for 323 newsroom employees in the newly created bargaining unit, which includes reporters, photographers, copy editors, designers, and other newsroom employees.

After analyzing the data, the union found that on average women in the Times newsroom are paid 70 percent of what their male counterparts are paid.

The report examined pay for people working in similar jobs, and noted that with a few exceptions pay disparities exist in all job classifications.

For example, the average reporter’s salary is about $95,000, but the average female reporter’s salary is $87,564 and the average reporter of color’s salary is $85,622.

Some of the pay gap can be explained by the age and experience levels of the Times employees.

Because of past hiring practices and other employer decisions, most of the better paid, longer tenured employees at the Times newsrooms are white males.

But, notes the union, this is only a partial explanation of the pay gap.

After comparing salary data for people in the same job classification with the same level of experience, states the report, we “found (that there are) scores of individual women and journalists of color who, on average, make thousands of dollars less than white and male co-workers of similar ages and job titles.”

Employees responding to the report said that discrimination at the Times goes back before Tronc bought the paper.

“Let’s be clear, this is not a problem created by Tronc,” tweeted a Latina employee. “This is the result of a culture in the newsroom that undervalues women and people of color, especially those hired through the Metpro program and then tasks those same reporters with working some of the toughest stories.”

Tronc describes its Metpro program as “a unique program designed to help beginning journalists launch careers and boost diversity at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (another paper owned by Tronc where journalists are organizing a union).

Tronc will likely not own the Times for very much longer.

In February, Tronc announced that it had sold the Times for $500 million to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles biotech entrepreneur.

That sale is still pending, but Soon-Shiong visited the Times newsroom last Friday to share his vision of what the Times should be with newsroom staff.

It’s not clear whether he had anything to say about the union’s report.

From the start of its organizing campaign, union supporters have stated that one of their main goals was to fight pay discrimination in the newsroom.

In a letter written last October to fellow newsroom staffers, members of the union organizing committee said that winning “equal pay for men and women and equal pay for journalists of color” was one of its main goals.

The union said that it plans to follow up on the findings in the recent report.

“The findings shed light on why the Los Angeles Times unionized after 136 years. We’re a stronger newsroom when we look out for each other. We will be meeting with our members soon to discuss this report and what should come next,” said the union in its summary of the report.

German public sector workers strike for big wage increase

After a week of “warning strikes,” The leader of Germany’s largest union ver. di expressed optimism that a deal raising wages for Germany’s public sector is in reach as the third round of wage bargaining resumed on Sunday.

More than 150,000 public service employees took part in the warning strikes that began on April 10 and lasted throughout the week.

Frank Bsirske, leader of ver. di, said that the solidarity expressed by members of ver. di and the German Civil Service Union (dbb) has made him confident that the government is now ready to negotiate wage increases.

Prior to the strikes and during the first two rounds of negotiations, the government had been stonewalling the unions on the wage increase demands.

The two unions want a 6 percent pay increase with a minimum increase of 200 euros a month. They also want a 100 euro a month increase for interns and trainees.

The strikes began on Tuesday when Lufthansa ground crew workers and firefighters walked off the job causing Germany’s largest airline to cancel 800 flights.

The next two days transport workers all over Germany idled public transportation.

Public transportation in Stuttgart, Hanover, Braunschwieg, Wolfsburg, Dusseldorf, Mannheim, Kaiserslautern, and Heidelberg was shut down for a day because of the strikes.

Government administrative offices, hospitals, child care centers, kindergartens, sanitation services, and other public services were all affected by the warning strikes.

As the strikes began to have their effect, Bsriske said that the government has the financial resources to meet the unions demands.

“Public coffers are full as never before–when if not now would be the time for wage increases,” Bsirske said.

The German government reported a 2017 budget surplus of 36.6 billion euros, Germany’s largest budget surplus since 1990.

Despite its record-breaking surplus, the government during the first two rounds of negotiations refused to make any wage increase offers, which frustrated union negotiators.

During a rally of striking workers in Bonn, Ulrich Silberbach, leader of the German Civil Service Union (dbb) whose members also participated in the warning strikes, said that the government needed to alter its negotiating position.

“Real trouble beckons if government employers . . . do not finally understand that they need to invest in their current and future workforce to make the government fit for the future,” said Silberbach.

After the warning strikes ended on Friday, union leaders buoyed by the solidarity shown by union members, entered the weekend confident that the third round of negotiations would be more fruitful.

And they were right.

After the first day of the third round ended, the unions and the government issued a joint statement announcing “initial progress” had been made in resolving their differences on a wage increase.

The statement went to say that work remained on the scope and structure of the wage increases

Bsriske told reporters that the progress made during the first day of negotiations was the result of the higher than expected number of union members who took part in the strike.

Rail workers in France continue their strikes

For the second time in five days, French rail workers on April 8 went on a two-day strike to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to eliminate hard-won labor rights and to transform France’s state-run rail system from a public service into a business.

Euronews reports that because of the strike only one in seven high-speed trains that connect the nation and one in five regional trains were operating during the two-day walkout.

The first two-day strike took place on April 3 and April 4, was equally disruptive.

Bloomberg reports that the four days of strike have cost SNCF, which operates France’s state-owned rail system, $100 million euros.

Four unions of rail workers have joined together to plan and organize the strike.

These two-day strikes will take place every five days and continue until the end of June unless President Macron re-thinks his decision to implement by decree changes to workers’ pension rights and job protections.

The unions are also concerned about Macron’s plan to turn SNCF into a business whose stock will be listed on stock exchanges.

Even though the government will maintain control of the stock, union leaders think that turning SNCF into a business will lead to its privatization.

While the original plan for the nationwide two-day strikes is for them to end in the latter part of June, Philippe Martinez, leader of CGT, the largest of the four striking rail unions, said that if the Macron government continues its present course of stonewalling negotiations, the strikes could last longer.

Martinez called on Macron and his negotiators to “unblock their ears to hear the worker’s discontent.”

“It’s this unwillingness to listen to the railway unions that has caused this situation,” Martinez said on LCI television. “We are a social opposition and that’s our role as a union.”

 

The discontent referred to by Martinez is the result of Macron’s announcement that he will if necessary issue a decree that eliminates early retirement and job security rights for newly hired rail workers.

Right now, rail workers can retire when they turn 52 years old and they have the guarantee of a job for life.

While the business-friendly press has characterized these benefits as privileges, they are in fact benefits that compensate rail workers for doing a hard job vital to commerce, leisure for others, and national unity.

“These rights were won by hard struggle and are seen (by workers) as some compensation for the low pay and the unsocial and unhealthy hours which must be worked to run a national rail network in a large country,” reports John Mullen for Counterfire.

There other reasons for concern among striking rail workers.

Macron wants to change the status of SNCF from that of a state-run public service to a joint-stock company.

Macron has characterized this change as an attempt to make SNCF more efficient, so that it can compete when France’s rail service is opened up to competition as required by the European Union.

The opening is supposed to begin in 2019, but Macron could postpone that intrusion until 2033 if he chooses.

Union leaders like Thierry Nier, deputy head of CGT’s rail workers union, are wary that Macron’s proposal will undermine the public nature of France’s rail system.

“The issue is this,” said Nier. “Does the state want to use this public good to meet the needs of the common interest, or play Monopoly with the SNCF? Competition doesn’t work, and it hurts passengers.”

There is also concern among the public that changing the structure of SNCF will lead to privatization of France’s rail system.

Critics of Macron’s proposal point out that the privatization of France Telecom began in a similar way.

Public opinion about the strike is divided.

The strike has been disruptive, which has been stressful for commuters trying to get to work and to travelers trying to reach their destination. That stress has led to frustration and anger.

But people are also concerned about the long-term impact that Macron’s proposals could have on the nation’s social fabric, leading many to support the strike.

In just two weeks, supporters of the strike have donated more than 500,000 euros to a strikers’ solidarity fund that will be used to supplement wages lost during the strikes.

“I unreservedly support the rail workers in their defense of public service,” wrote one donor.

“I completely agree with the rail workers and the reason behind what they’re doing,” said Hemet Sylla, a rail passenger whose train had been delayed, to The Local. “It’s absolutely vital to protect your rights and keep on fighting those trying to take them away.  And the disruption to our day might be annoying but this is part of living in a society where you have the right to protect yourself.”

OK teachers win victories for the students; more work remains

After a week of demonstrations and lobbying at the Oklahoma state Capitol, Oklahoma teachers on Friday, April 2 won major victories when state lawmakers passed two new tax bills that nearly double the amount of new education funding.

Since their strike began on April 2, teachers have made it clear that their job action is about more than pay raises; it’s about redefining the state’s priorities.

Teachers want state leaders to put their students first, and they want state leaders to find the resources it will take to invest in their students.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), said that the passage of two new tax bills, HB 3375 and HB 1019xx, shows that legislators are listening to striking Oklahoma teachers.

HB 3375, also known as “ball and dice,” allows casinos on Native American reservations to offer ball and dice games, which will generate significant new revenue for education, and HB 1019xx requires online retailers such as Amazon to collect sales taxes on purchases.

Priest praised the striking teachers, who “have been passionately advocating for their students and asking the legislature to provide more funding for our classrooms after a decade of neglect of Oklahoma’s public schools.”

“Because of the educators, parents and students who have taken to the Capitol this past week, the new funding for Oklahoma’s students nearly doubled to $92 million,” she added.

But Priest also said that there is more work to do.

She called on Oklahoma’s Gov. Mary Fallin to veto HB 1012xx, a bill that repeals a small tax on hotel and motel stays.

Priest said that passage of HB 1012xx is a step backward from progress that lawmakers had made on education funding.

“We call on Governor Fallin to immediately veto HB 1012xx because it steals $42 million in funding away from Oklahoma’s students,” Priest said.

She also urged lawmakers to pass SB 1086, a bill that eliminates a state income tax deduction on capital gains.

“They can end this walkout with the passage of Senate Bill 1086, which will provide significant and much-needed funding for students,” Priestly said.

SB 1086 would eliminate the deduction of capital gains on the sale of real estate or stock in an Oklahoma-based firm.

The tax break, which was designed to encourage business investment, benefits about 20,000 households or about 1 percent of the state’s households at the expense of education and other vital services.

According to Together Oklahoma, 85 percent of the benefits of the deduction go to people with annual incomes of $200,000 or more.

Rep. Cory Williams, a Democratic lawmaker from Stillwater told NonDoc that the capital gains deduction is a failed incentive that deprives the state of revenue it needs to provide core services such as education.

“We had an independent auditor tell us that this is an upside-down incentive where we have lost $465 million in revenue over a four-year period, (but only) got an additional $9 million in investment across the state because of it,” Williams said.

Priest said that the striking teachers would be back at the state Capitol on Monday morning to urge lawmakers to pass SB 1086.

For the past ten years, leaders of the state have disinvested in public education while at the same time giving tax breaks to the wealthy and special interests.

As a result of this disinvestment strategy, spending per pupil in the state’s public schools has decreased by 26.9 percent since 2008, and for the last four years, Oklahoma has led the nation in the size of education budget cuts.

The impact has been devastating.

Nearly 20 percent of the state’s public schools have cut their school week to four days because they can’t afford to stay open for five.

There isn’t enough money to buy new textbooks, so the ones used by students are outdated and in some cases, must be shared with other students.

Many students go to schools in a severe state of disrepair, but school districts can’t afford their maintenance much less their repair.

School districts also don’t have the money needed to retain qualified teachers, many of whom have left Oklahoma to teach in other states where the pay is better.

But the action by the state’s teachers has given Oklahomans reason for hope, which is why the public has strongly supported the teachers’ action.

Priest said that a survey by Sooner Poll, which she called “a reliable Republican pollster,” showed that 72 percent of those surveyed support the teacher action.

Priest said that this strong support from the public is one reason that teachers and their supporters will continue to fight for their students.

“We will be back at the Capitol on Monday,” said Priest.

“It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will dig in their heels and protect special interests over doing what’s right by students,” she continued. “If lawmakers won’t stand with teachers, support professionals, and students, we’ll work hard to elect education champions who will.”

Oklahoma teachers’ strike for their students

“Our students deserve more,” was the message of 30,000 striking Oklahoma teachers and their supporters at a rally at the state Capitol on April 2, and they vowed to continue their strike until lawmakers hear their voice.

Last week Oklahoma lawmakers thought that they had staved off a teachers’ strike by passing a new tax bill, HB 1010xx, which provides revenue to pay for an average $6000 a year raise for teachers, but striking teachers urged lawmakers to find more money to help their students get a quality education.

“Students, parents, and teachers have been negatively affected by 11 years of cuts to classrooms,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). “They see broken chairs in classrooms, out of date textbooks that are duct taped together, and class sizes have ballooned.”

Priest said that there is a bi-partisan deal on the table to add $100 million to the $400 million in new taxes for education and other public services that Oklahoma lawmakers approved last week.

“Unfortunately the deal to provide the additional $100 million was left unfinished (on Monday) because the House of Representatives adjourned without taking action on the deal,” Priest said.

“That’s why we’ll be back at the Capitol April 3, and the walkout will continue,” added Priest.

The Oklahoma Senate on March 28 approved HB 1010xx.

The next day, the state House of Representatives approved the bill and sent it to Gov. Mary Fallin, who said that she would sign the new revenue bill.

At the time of the passage, Priest called the new tax bill a good down payment on much needed improvements for Oklahoma’s schools.

But Priest also said that the state needed to find more revenue to fix a broken education system that has been damaged by more than a decade of budget cuts.

Lawmakers and the governor were patting themselves on the back after passage of the new tax bill and were hoping that its passage would stave off the planned April 2 strike.

But then special interests intervened, and the deal that had been supported by OEA and the American Federation of Teachers-Oklahoma City began to unravel.

The hotel/motel lobby began to complain about a new $5 per night fee on hotel and motel stays that was included in HB 1010xx.

Lawmakers responded by deleting the new fee, which lowered HB 1010xx estimated new revenue by about $25 million.

The deal alarmed teachers, who feared that other special interests would seek to eliminate other new sources of revenue, and on March 30, Priestly announced that the strike planned for April 2 would still take place.

The importance of the passage of HB 1010xx cannot be underestimated.

Tax cuts have been the mantra of state leaders since the mid-2000s.

But the tax cuts have come with a price.

Lost revenue resulting from tax cuts have made it difficult for the state to fund basic services.

Public education has been hit the hardest.

Since 2008, spending per pupil has decreased by 26.9 percent.

NPR reports that nearly 20 percent of the states public schools have cut back their school week to four days because of the lack of state funding.

The Guardian reports that for the past four years, Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to its education budget.

Despite these dire circumstances, when HB 1010xx came up for consideration, special interests lobbied hard to keep their taxes from being raised.

None lobbied harder than the oil and gas industry, which has enjoyed preferential tax breaks for more than two decades.

But HB 1010xx raised the gross production tax on oil and gas drilling by a modest 3 percentage points.

To protect its preferential treatment, the oil and gas lobby organized a special lobbying effort on the day before the Senate voted on HB 1010xx.

The lobby’s job seemed to be made easier because it takes a  vote of 75 percent in both houses of the legislature to raise taxes in Oklahoma.

But the possibility of a teachers’ strike and the effective mobilization of organized teachers and their supporters coupled with the dire state of Oklahoma’s budget proved more compelling to lawmakers than lobbying by the oil and gas industry.

Despite their victory, Oklahoma teachers decided to press for more funding that would directly benefit their students, and so tens of thousands of the state’s teachers left their classrooms on April 2 to make their voice heard at the state Capitol.

As the Oklahoma teachers’ strike enters its second day, teachers have made it clear that their work stoppage is about more than a pay raise.

Before the strike began, Candice Pierce, a seventh grade teacher, said that she was supporting the walkout “to show that our students matter.”

“It’s not just about teacher pay,” continued Pierce. “It’s about our students getting funding. . . Our students deserve the best books; they deserve the best educators; they deserve everything that’s the best.”

 

 

 

Kentucky teachers close schools to protest pension ambush

Twenty school districts in Kentucky were shut down on Friday, March 30 as teachers poured into Frankfort, the state capital, to protest the passage of what teachers are calling an “ambush pension bill.”

Kentucky Education Association (KEA) president Stephanie Winkler said that KEA has planned a rally on Monday, April 2 to continue to protest the state’s leadership’s “blatant disrespect for the law and democracy.”

Winkler’s remarks came after Republican leaders of Kentucky’s Legislature inserted language that radically alters pensions for teachers and other public employees into a routine bill about sewer repairs, and then rushed the bill, SB 151, through both houses for a vote.

No committee hearings were held on the newly written bill and there was no analysis of the bill’s impact on the state or to legislators’ constituents. There wasn’t even a chance for lawmakers to read the 291-page bill before they voted.

Nevertheless, the House of Representatives at 7:30 P.M. narrowly approved the bill 49-46, and three hours later the Senate did the same and sent it Gov. Matt Bevin to sign.

The new bill eliminates pensions for newly hired teachers and other government employees and replaces them with a cash balance plan, which shifts much of the investment risks onto individual employees and reduces their pension benefit.

In addition to protesting the stealth attack on pensions, Winkler said that the Monday demonstrations will be about holding the governor and lawmakers accountable for education funding.

“We want lawmakers to vote for a budget that funds public education,” said Winkler at Friday afternoon media conference.

Winkler said that lawmakers need to increase state funding for classroom education, restore cuts to public school transportation budgets, and ease local school districts’ financial burdens.

Most school districts will be on spring break beginning April 2, but Winkler urged districts that are still open to close school on April 2 so that educators can come to Frankfort and make their voices heard.

As of Friday afternoon, at least three had announced that they will do so.

After passage of the SB 151, Gov. Matt Bevin, who enthusiastically supports SB 151, said that the bill solves the state’s pension funding problem, but it doesn’t.

For one thing, the bill provides no new funding to pay down the $26.75 billion unfunded liability of the state employees’ pension fund.

Gov. Bevin wants to divert more than a $1 billion from the teachers’ pension fund, which is in much better shape, into the state employees’ pension fund.

Winkler said that HB 151 is bad for public education because it creates an inferior retirement benefit that makes it more difficult than it already is to attract new teachers to teach in the Kentucky’s schools.

Making it more difficult to attract quality educators, Winkler said,  breaks a promise that the state has made to provide an equal and quality education to all public school students.

SB 151 leaves the pension of current teachers and other public employees intact, but the teachers who came to Frankfort on March 30 and plan to return on April 2 have every reason to believe that SB 151 breaks a promise made to them as well as to future teachers.

SB 151 leaves public pensions still seriously under funded, and there’s every reason to believe that in the not too distant future, Gov. Bevin won’t hesitate to use the pensions’ precariousness as an excuse to eliminate pensions for all teachers.

The stealth attack on public pensions comes after, Gov. Bevin’s original proposal to end public pensions in Kentucky, SB 1, appeared to be dead in the water.

Public demonstrations by teachers and other public employees had made lawmakers wary about supporting the bill.

Gov. Bevin’s antipathy toward secure retirements shouldn’t come as a surprise. He is an enthusiastic acolyte of the Koch brothers, whose political action committees lavishly support political candidates seeking to weaken public institutions including public education and public service.

Teachers from all over Kentucky recognize this threat, and that’s why they rushed to Frankfort on March 30 and will return on April 2.

And it appears that their loud voice has been heard by Andy Beshear, the state’s Democratic attorney general.

Beshear told an audience of teachers who packed the capitol’s halls on Friday that SB 151 violates the non-voidable contract the state has made to teachers and other public employees, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.

“While the (legislature’s) leadership broke their promise to you,” Beshear said. “I am going to keep my promise to you. I’m going to sue over this bill.”