Resounding win for Iowa public service workers

In a stunning setback to a national campaign to destroy unions, Iowa public service workers overwhelmingly voted to recertify their unions.

A new Iowa law enacted in February requires public service employees working under a collective bargaining agreement to recertify their union as their collective bargaining representative before negotiations on a new agreement can begin.

The new law is the brainchild of the State Policy Network (SPN), which Source Watch describes as “the policy, litigation, and communication arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

Source Watch also reports that SPN is “the tip of the spear of far-right . . .that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party.”

SPN describes itself as a network of affiliated state political policy groups. Source Watch reports that the policy groups are funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family.

Voting on recertification took place  between October 10 and October 24 for 468 bargaining units that included school districts and local governments.

The Iowa Public Employment Board announced on October 25 that of the 468 recertification elections, 436, or 88 percent, resulted in unions being recertified.

In September, 13 bargaining units voted to recertify their union and none voted not to.

“This sweeping victory confirms what we’ve known since the (new law) gutting . . . collective bargaining rights (passed) in February: That unionized employees, both members and non-members, value their voice in the workplace,” said  Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents 1700 public service workers in the state.

Forty-one out of 42 AFSCME units voted to recertify. The union is challenging the results of the lone election in which it was not recertified.

That bargaining unit consists of 4 people: two voted for recertification, one did not vote, and one of the ballots was voided.

The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), the teachers’ union, reports that 216 out of its 220 bargaining units voted for recertification.

Tammy Wawro, ISEA president, said that  just 15 votes stood in the way of recertifying all ISEA local associations.

Of the teachers who voted, 19,659 voted to recertify, 389 voted not to, and 2147 did not vote.

In order to be recertified, unions had to receive yes votes from 50 percent plus one of all employees covered by the collective bargaining agreement including non-members. People who did not vote counted as a no vote.

Supporters of the new law said that it would give employees an opportunity to free themselves from union tyranny, but the outcome of the elections showed how much workers value their unions.

“We are enormously proud of the thousands and thousands of education professionals who overwhelmingly voted in favor of their professions by successfully passing recertification in their locals,” said Wawro. “ISEA members and their colleagues took time out of their busy schedules to let the legislature know that they believe their voice in their profession, their work environment, and in support of their students is important.”

The law that imposed the recertification vote on Iowa’s public sector also included other provisions meant to weaken and ultimately dismantle public service unions.

It prohibits bargaining over employees’ health care benefits, evaluations, and supplemental pay.

It also prohibits union dues check off–the practice that allows employees to have their union dues paid through payroll deduction.

Much if not all of the provisions in the law can be found in model bills circulated among lawmakers by SPN and its state affiliates .

Four years ago Jane Mayer writing for the New Yorker explained that these model bills are guides that state lawmakers can use to draft bills that advance the right wing’s agenda including union busting.

More recently, the Guardian published an article explaining how SPN is plotting a national campaign to “defund and defang” public employee unions, which according to SPN is the “most powerful opponent” of SPN’s corporate backers.

SPN is quite secretive about its funding sources, but we have a better idea about where members of its network get their money.

According to Source Watch, corporations that fund SPN network members include AT&T, Kraft Foods, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, Facebook, and Microsoft.

The SPN network also receives money from the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Coors family, the Walton family, the Roe Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searles Freedom Trust.

The fact that all this money and special interests were aligned against public service workers in Iowa makes their victory even more remarkable.

AFSCME’s Homan said that the victory was the result of all out effort to reach and mobilize every worker affected by the new law.

“While this process was unnecessarily challenging and unfair at every turn, I am immensely proud of our members and leaders who stepped up to earn every last vote,” said Homan. “We worked hard to communicate the rigged system put in place to each and every eligible voter, and that work paid off. I congratulate the hardworking public employees who voted to recertify; this victory is all theirs.”

Union members bash tax cuts for the wealthy paid for with cuts to Medicaid and Medicare

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) criticized the budget resolution recently passed by the US Senate.

The budget resolution is a blueprint for federal spending and revenue collection for the next ten years and lays out the funding priorities of the Senate.

Its passage is also one of the preliminary steps that Republicans need to take in order to pass their new tax bill that reduces taxes by at least $1.5 trillion, the lion’s share of which will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Nearly all of these tax cuts for the wealthy will be paid for by cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

The senate budget resolutions cuts funding for Medicaid by $1 trillion over ten years and Medicare by $470 billion over the same period.

“The cuts make me angry and sad because they will hurt so many people, including my own family, all just to give tax breaks to the wealthiest one percent,” said Josh Kunkle, a Pittsburgh security officer and 32BJ SEIU member.

SEIU member Carlita Adamy of Syracuse, New York said that unions members will fight these proposed cuts every step of the way.

“We beat them back when they tried to cut health insurance from millions of people, and we won’t let it happen this time either, the health of our residents and our families is too important,” said Adamy, a nursing home worker and member of 1199 SEIU.

A report by Democratic staff members of the Senate Budget Committee says that “the Republican budget is a massive transfer of wealth from working families, the elderly, children, the sick, and the poor to the top 1 percent.”

According to the report, 80 percent of the benefits of the tax plan that Republicans hope to enact will go to the top 1 percent of income earners.

In addition to slashing nearly $1.5 trillion in Medicaid and Medicare funding, the Republican budget would raise taxes on 30 percent of Americans with annual incomes between $50,000 and 150,000 by an average of $1000 by the end of the decade.

The report also notes that these massive breaks for the rich come at time of extreme income inequality in the US.

“Today, the United States has more wealth and income inequality than at any time since the 1920s,” states the report. “The top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. . . Further, since the Wall Street crash, 52 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.”

In addition to slashing Medicare and Medicaid, the Senate budget resolution includes funding cuts for

  • housing assistance for one million families
  • heating assistance for seniors, disabled people, and families with children
  • nutrition assistance to families enrolled in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and
  • the head start program.

The Republican budget resolution also reduces transportation funding by $200 million.

The House of Representatives earlier in October passed its own budget resolution similar to the Senate’s.

There are some differences, however, and the house, which is also controlled by Republicans has a choice: accept the Senate budget resolution as is or request a conference committee with senators to resolve the differences.

Once an agreed upon budget resolution passes both houses then committees in both houses will begin to take steps to pass a new tax bill.

SEIU and at least one other union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA), are planning on mobilizing members to oppose the proposed cuts and the tax breaks for the wealthy that the cuts will fund.

In a message to CWA members, the union asked, “Should working people pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?”

CWA also invited members to participate in a town hall phone call on October 26 to hear how the Republican plan will affect working people.

“It’s really important that working people speak up and keep the pressure on Congress for real tax reform–not more breaks for the 1 percent,” said the CWA’s message to members.

UNITE HERE mobilizes members for justice at work and beyond

UNITE HERE on October 19 launched a coordinated mobilization of its member in the hospitality and associated industries in more than 40 cities across the US.

UNITE HERE’s national day of action included strikes, acts of non-violent civil disobedience, rallies, and media conferences.

The union, which has 270,000 members many of whom are immigrants, mobilized its members to protest “the attack on immigrants, women, and all workers,” said the union it its media statement about the mobilization.

“We are in a political age where immigrants, women, and all workers are under constant attack, and equality for all is at risk of being no more than just a dream,” said D. Taylor,  UNITE HERE’s president.

The solution, continued Taylor, is build real political power that can defeat the constant attacks against races and religions that have become all too common today and hold the world’s richest corporations accountable.

Taylor praised UNITE HERE’s hospitality workers for leading the fight for better labor standards for all workers and better protections for immigrant workers and said that the national day of action was “only the beginning of what UNITE HERE will do to take back our country.”

Here’s a sample of the union’s actions.

In Philadelphia, UNITE HERE Local 274 members held Marriott International and its subsidiary Starwood Hotels and Resorts accountable for not delivering the jobs they promised in return for millions of dollars in public subsidies.

Marriott and Starwood own a new luxury hotel in the heart of Philadelphia called Aloft. The owners received $33 million in public subsidies to help build the hotel. Included in those subsidies was $2 million from the state of Pennsylvania in exchange for creating 170 new jobs.

When the hotel opened in August, most of those jobs failed to materialize.

Local 274 members converged on Aloft and occupied its lobby to demand that Marriott and Starwood return the subsidy to the state.

“It’s bad enough that we all have to suffer under Trump’s terrible policies and broken promises,” said Corean Holloway, a UNITE HERE member taking part in the action. “Philadelphia shouldn’t also have to suffer hotel developers who take our money and break their promises.”

A dozen members and supporters staged a non-violent sit-in in the hotel’s lobby and were arrested.

In New Orleans, members of UNITE HERE Local 2262 rallied near the city’s convention center to urge other hospitality workers in the city to join the union.

“When hospitality jobs are unionized, they become middle-class jobs,” said Marlene Patrick-Cooper, UNITE HERE organizing director, at the rally. “It’s the best answer for fighting poverty in the United States.”

Recently, 500 workers at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel voted to join UNITE HERE.

They joined because they wanted the higher pay and better benefits that union hotel workers in the New Orleans area receive.

UNITE HERE is urging other non-union hotel workers to do the same and has formed the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee to help them unionize.

In Washington DC on the day before the national day of action, UNITE HERE held a media conference to announce the start of a national campaign to preserve the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of immigrants who have come to the US to escape dangerous conditions in their countries.

TPS gives these immigrants a chance to work while they wait for the US government to rule on their request to live and work in the US.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to decide in November whether to extend TPS to workers who have come to the US from Central America.

If TPS is not extended, workers like Juan Hernandez Yanez, a UNITE HERE cafeteria worker from El Salvador, could lose their union jobs and health insurance benefits.

“If TPS is ended for Honduras, Nicaragua, or any of the other countries up for renewal in the coming months, our industry will lose tens of thousands of dedicated long-time workers–who will in turn lose their livelihoods and their families,” said Maria Elena Durazo, UNITE HERE’s general vice president. “People like Juan pay taxes, play by the rules, and have built lives here in the US.”

In Hawaii, members of UNITE HERE Local 5 conducted a one-day strike at the Ilikai hotel to demand a new contract that reflects the same pay and labor standards at other unionized hotels in Hawaii.

Local 5 has been negotiating a new contract with the hotel’s owners, but the negotiations have dragged on for two years.

The Ilikai workers walked off the job to demonstrate their determination to win a new contract that substantially raises pay and benefits.

“We will never stop fighting for the dignity of the women and men at the Ilikai,” says Joli Tokusato, an Ilikai front desk clerk. “iStar and Aqua-Aston (the hotel’s owners) need to do the right thing for Hawaii’s working families and settle a fair contract.”

The Ilikai workers were joined by hundreds of other Local 5 members on the picket line during the strike.

According to Local 5, “management reached out to us in the middle of the action to talk about a pathway to settlement. This is a huge victory and a lesson we need to take with us into 2018: when workers are strong and united, it sends the message loud and clear to our employers.”

Striking miners remain resilient and strong

After six months on strike, 250 miners at the Lucky Friday silver mine in Mullan, Idaho remain determined to continue their fight for a fair contract that protects hard-won union pay, benefits, and safety measures.

In addition to maintaining a strong picket line for more than six months, the strikers, members of United Steelworkers Local 5114, have carried out an effective corporate campaign aimed putting their employer Hecla Mining on the defensive.

In addition to the Lucky Friday silver mine in Idaho, Hecla owns mines in Mexico, Canada, and Alaska that mine silver, gold, lead, and zinc.

The strikers next action against corporate greed will take them to Hecla headquarters in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho where on October 31 they’ll hold a solidarity rally.

After more than a year of bargaining, the strike began in March when the company tried to implement the terms of its last, best, and final contract offer made in February and rejected by Local 5114 members by a vote of 244-2.

Among other things, the company’s wants to cut pay, increase miners’ health care cost, eviscerate the seniority system, and make changes that miners fear will compromise safety.

The company’s offer also reduces the length of recall rights from three years to 90 days. Recall rights are important because, they protect workers’ jobs in event of layoffs or when the mine shuts down for long periods of repair and maintenance.

Hecla apparently thought that it could force a strike at one of its mines and carry on with business as usual, but that proved not to be the case.

Hecla’s silver production is a fraction of what it once was, and the business press is starting to take notice.

The Motley Fool reported that because of the strike, Hecla silver production during the first six months of 2017 was 850,000 ounces less than it was in the first six months of 2016 causing a steep drop in profits.

The strike at Lucky Friday “played a pretty big role in the (poor) financial performance Hecla Mining turned in during the second quarter of 2017,” reports The Motley Fool, which also observes that the strike has been “costly” to investors.

Seeking Alpha also reports that the strike has caused Hecla profits to fall.

For the company’s second quarter, the reporting period between April 2017 and June 2017, Hecla lost $24.2 million, a significant drop compared to the second quarter of 2016 when the company reported a profit of $24 million.

The outlook forward doesn’t appear to be much better.

Recently, the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review reported that with Hecla supervisory personnel working the mine, Lucky Friday silver production between July 2017 and September 2017 is 90 percent below its production for the same time period in 2016.

The strike has been hard on the workers, but they been strong and resilient. None of the union members have returned to work, and whenever they have had an opportunity, they’ve taken the fight to corporate management.

In August, Steelworkers including two Lucky Friday miners confronted Hecla executives in New York City during a meeting with investors.

They “stormed in during Hecla’s presentation chanting, ‘Hecla, Hecla you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side.”

They also met with some investors at that meeting to describe the impact that the strike was having on the company.

In September, members of Local 5114 attended the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum induction banquet where they passed out information about the strike.

The strikers accused Phillip Baker, the CEO of Hecla, of trying “to starve our families into accepting a contract that lowers pay, undermines job security, and gives management unchallenged authority to decide who works and when and where they’re assigned regardless of seniority or health and safety concerns.”

Baker, who was paid $6.4 million in 2016, a 36 percent raise over 2015, was also present at the banquet.

When he learned that Local 5114 members were at the banquet, he “lost his cool” and demanded that the workers be removed from the banquet.

The striking miners have received support from their communities where they live and from union members outside the community.

In September, a group of young workers and retirees from International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals in the Pacific Northwest traveled to Mullan to help the miners picket.

Since the strike began ILWU locals have contributed  $15,500 to Local 5114’s strike fund.

With help from United Steelworkers international office, Local 5114 has paid out $994,000 in assistance to strikers and their families.

Those wishing to donate money to support the strike can send checks to USW 5114, PO Box 427, Mullan, ID 83846.

During all this activity, the union’s bargaining team has been meeting with company negotiators.

They met for three days earlier in October and reported that some progress has been made, but more work needs to be done.

The next round of negotiations is scheduled for October 25, 26, and 27.

Boston food service workers win standard setting pay increase

Food service workers at Northeastern University in Boston voted on October 10 to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement that will raise their annual wage to at least $35,000 by 2019.

The new agreement is the second collective bargaining agreement that the workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 26 has negotiated that establishes a minimum annual salary of $35,000 for university food service workers in the Boston area.

The agreements also provide for improved health care and pension benefits and should serve as a new standard for collective bargaining agreements that unions in the area negotiate for service workers.

At Northeastern, members of Local 26 had voted to strike unless their new collective bargaining agreement included a substantial pay increase.

They needed a big pay raise because their pay was so low that some of the workers were receiving public assistance.

They reasoned that their employer Chartwells, which operates university dining halls all over the US and is owned by the international food service conglomerate Compass Group, shouldn’t be paying poverty wages.

Their vote to strike was inspired by the success of Harvard food service workers who won a minimum annual salary of $35,000 a year ago as a result of a 22-day strike.

The Chartwells workers were prepared to begin their strike on October 11, two days before Northeastern was to host the annual meeting of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU).

According to the Clinton Foundation, CGIU meetings bring together “students, university representatives, top experts, and celebrities . . . to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges” including among other things “the alleviation of poverty.”

Had the strike taken place, Bill and Chelsea Clinton and others attending the meeting to discuss innovative strategies for alleviating poverty would have had to decide whether to cross the workers’ picket line to attend the meeting or to honor the picket line in order to stand in solidarity with workers fighting to alleviate their own poverty.

The union and Chartwells, however, reached an agreement just a few hours before the strike was to begin.

The new agreement includes a total wage increase of $5.56 an hour over five years for all workers. By 2019 all full-time workers will be making at least $35,000 a year.

In addition, the company will pay 97 percent of the workers’ health care costs and will begin contributing to UNITE HERE’s pension fund so that workers can start accruing retirement benefits.

The new contract also includes protections for immigrants, more sick days, better non-discrimination language in the contract that includes protections for gender identity and expression, additional sick days, and language that protects workers from lost wages when the state declares snow day emergencies.

“I am so proud of what we accomplished,” said Angela Bello, a Northeastern food service worker and member of the Local 26 bargaining team. “It’s amazing to feel the power that workers have when we get together and are well organized. The ways this contract will impact our lives is almost hard to believe. Thank you to everyone who supported us and believed in us.”

Brian Lang, president of Local 26, said that the new collective bargaining agreement at Northeastern will serve as the standard in the union’s next round of bargaining for service workers in the Boston area.

“Our union fights so that our members can have their fair share of the wealth they create. Last year that meant we struck Harvard University for 22 days. This week we threatened to do the same at Northeastern. Next on the list are the 34 Boston hotels where contracts expire in 2018.” said Lang.

AFL-CIO urges the SEC to examine “unusual” purchase of Navient stocks

In a letter to the Securities Exchange Commission, the AFL-CIO urged the commission to investigate possible insider trading of Navient stock.

Navient collects and services student loans worth $300 billion for more than 12 million borrowers, making it the largest student loan servicer in the US.

The letter from Heather Slavkin Corzo, director of the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investments, says that suspicious trading activity took place on August 31 just hours before the US Department of Education announced a highly favorable decision for Navient.

The day after the announcement was made, Navient stock increased by 4 percent.

On August 31, the Department of Education notified the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that the department would no longer share information about Navient and other student loan processors with CFPB.

This decision was good news for Navient because in January CFPB filed a suit against Navient for cheating borrowers out of their rights to lower payments in order to boost its profits.

Without information about Navient from the Department of Education, CFPB will have a more difficult time pursuing its claims for millions of dollars in restitution for borrowers affected by Navient’s actions.

After CFPB was notified, hours elapsed before the department’s notification was made public.

During the time between the notification and its announcement, nearly 900,000 shares of Navient stock were purchased in three separate transactions near and after the close of the market.

After the transactions were completed and after the department’s notification was made public, Navient shares jumped from $13.20 a share to $13.75 a share.

A Navient spokesperson denies that Navient had advanced knowledge of the department’s notification.

CFPB’s January suit against Navient alleges that the company failed to provide the most basic information needed by borrowers who qualified for reduced loan payments.

“Navient provided bad information in writing and over the phone, processed payments incorrectly, and failed to act when borrowers complained about problems,” states the CFPB in a media statement about the suit.

“Critically (Navient) systematically made it harder for borrowers to obtain the important right to pay according to what they can afford. These illegal practices made paying back student loans more difficult and costly to certain borrowers,” continues the statement.

These allegations were not the first time that Navient has run afoul of federal regulators.

In 2014, Navient agreed to pay $97 million to settle a charge that it violated the Service Members Civil Rights Act.

The Justice Department charged Navient with overcharging more than 78,000 active duty service members on their student loan payments.

According to the Justice Department, Navient failed to provide service members with the 6 percent interest rate cap to which they were entitled under the law.

Navient agreed to pay $60 million to service members affected by the overcharge, $55,000 in civil penalties, and to request that credit bureaus delete negative information on service members credit histories caused by the overcharges.

The Education Department cooperated with the Justice Department in its investigation of Navient and provided important information that helped the department reach a favorable settlement.

But the times have changed, and under the new leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Education Department appears to have decided that cooperating with federal regulators to protect student loan borrowers is regulatory overreach.

That’s good news to Navient, its executives, and its large investors who can afford to buy big chunks of stock.

That big chunks of Navient stock were bought during such a narrow window of opportunity raised suspicions by the AFL-CIO, which is an investor in Navient and in the past has worked vigorously to promote good corporate governance at Navient and other companies.

Corzo told Bloomberg that the fortuitous purchases of such a large number of shares at just the right time was “unusual” and added that “insider trading undermines the fairness of financial markets.”

Union joins call for Puerto Rico aid and debt relief

Members of SEIU Local 32BJ on October 4 joined a demonstration at the White House calling for more aid to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico and the elimination of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion public debt.

“It’s immoral and Un-American to demand that Puerto Rican families first pay back the banks before they can rebuild their homes, hospitals, schools and roads,” said Jaime Contreras, 32BJ vice president. “Congress and the Trump Administration must act now to prevent an already growing crisis from turning into a full-blown tragedy.”

The protest at the White House was part of a nationwide Rebuild Puerto Rico Day of Action called by Vamos4PR, a network of labor, community, cultural, and human rights groups fighting a fair economy for all Puerto Ricans.

Rebuild Puerto Rico demonstrations took place in 13 cities across the US.

SEIU members joined another Rebuild Puerto Rico action in Chicago.

This one took place outside of the Chicago headquarters of Merrill Lynch, a subsidiary of Bank of America. Merrill Lynch-Bank of America is one of the five largest underwriters of Puerto Rico’s public debt.

In 2015, Merrill Lynch-Bank of America was one of four banks that charged Puerto Rico $28.1 million in underwriting fees on $3.5 billion worth on bonds issued by the island .0commonwealth.

Speaking at the Chicago rally, Chicago Alderman Roberto Maldonado criticized Merrill Lynch for taking money out of Puerto Rico without giving anything back.

“Merrill Lynch should be sending goods and services and money to Puerto Rico instead of taking what little money we have,” said Maldonado.

While Merrill Lynch and other financial institutions were profiting from the sale of Puerto Rican bonds, the commonwealth was suffering through a decade-long recession.

The government borrowed money to keep the recession from getting worse, but by 2016, it was drowning in debt that it couldn’t repay.

The US government responded by creating the Financial Oversight Board that dictated fiscal policy to the island, including more austerity for the people of Puerto Rico.

Suffering from the effects of an interminable recession, austerity policies, and unsustainable debt, Puerto Rico in 2017 sought debt relief in bankruptcy court.

Three months after declaring bankruptcy, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, one of the worst hurricanes in US history.

The Category 5 hurricane made a desperate situation even worse.

A little more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, 8800 Puerto Ricans were living in shelters, 95 percent of the island still had no power, only one hospital was operational, only 45 percent of the people had clean water, and the list goes on.

Given the pain that Puerto Ricans have suffered, you might have expected some compassion from its creditors, but that was not the case.

“Even as families have been struggling to survive, and as a Category 5 hurricane hit the island, banks have been relentless, pushing in the courts to ensure they’re paid,” said SEIU in a statement of support for Puerto Rico and its people.

Without the elimination of Puerto Rico’s public debt, it’s hard to imagine how it can recover from the devastating storm.

The hurricane ravaged the island’s agriculture, one of the island’s economic sectors that has been performing well.

Caribbean Business reports that the hurricane destroyed high value crops such as coffee and fruit trees “some of which will take years to replace.”

USA Today reports that the island’s pharmaceutical industry was also hit hard by the storm.

Companies such as Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca have shut down their manufacturing facilities while they assess the storm’s damage, and it could be months before they are up and running again.

Dams, roads, bridges, electric power, telephone service, and other infrastructure that make commerce possible have been heavily damaged by the hurricane, and it will take years to rebuild this infrastructure.

Wall Street banks and hedge funds will likely take a hit if Puerto Rico’s debt is eliminated, but any losses that they may take are pennies on the dollar compared to the bailout they received when they were drowning in their own debt crisis.

When massive Wall Street debt threatened to sink some of the US’ largest financial institutions, they received trillions of dollars in federal debt relief.

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade that financial institutions received $16 trillion in federal aid after the 2008 financial crisis threatened to put them out of business.

Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch (eventually bought by Bank of America), and Bank of America received $7.8 trillion in federal bail out money. That was nearly half of the public money that Wall Street received as a bailout.

Vamos4PR is demanding that during this time of crisis, the US government put the needs of people of Puerto Rico above the demands of its creditors.

“It’s simple,” said one post on the Vamos4PR Facebook page. ” The interests of the people of Puerto Rico MUST be put before the interests of Wall Street banks and hedge funds.”

Conservative news sites slander Teamsters in Puerto Rico

Conservative news sites published false reports accusing members of the Teamsters Union in Puerto Rico of conducting a strike that impeded relief efforts during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The false accusation against union truck drivers infuriated Alexis Rodriguez, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 901 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Let me be clear,” said Rodriguez. “The Teamsters in Puerto Rico have been working on relief efforts from day one. Anyone who has said something different is lying. Our sole purpose is to help Puerto Rico recover and become better and stronger.”

Local 901 has been joined by other Teamster organizations working to bring aid to victims of the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico’s history.

The Teamsters are also working with the AFL-CIO to mobilize union members on the US mainland to support relief efforts for people struggling to survive the hurricane’s devastation.

“There is currently a need for volunteer truck drivers who hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to transport shipping containers from the port to distribution centers throughout the island,” said a Teamster message to members asking for volunteers. “Additionally, the Teamsters Freight, Airline, Passenger Transport, Package, Public Services, and Waste Divisions are contacting Teamster employers that operate in Puerto Rico and our local unions throughout the US and Canada to identify avenues of support and volunteer.”

According to George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York City, the response of Teamster members has been “inspiring.”

“We have had hundreds of members contact us to volunteer their time to go down to Puerto Rico to help with the relief efforts,” said Miranda.

The Teamsters also set up a website for people who want to donate money to the relief effort: .

The so-called news sites that reported the fake news claimed that the strike was the main cause for the delay in getting relief to people, not the late and inadequate response by the Trump administration.

Because of flooding, downed communications systems, the lack of fuel, and damage to roads and to people’s homes, some truck drivers had difficulty reporting for work.

Those who were able to get to work found that the lack of diesel fuel made it difficult for them to deliver aid to people.

But those Teamsters who were able, got involved in the relief effort as soon as the hurricane passed.

“The truth is that members of Local Section 901 of the Teamsters Union in San Juan have been working or volunteering since the next day the hurricane passed through the area, helping with disaster relief and the recuperation,” said Rodriguez.

Teamsters President-General Jim Hoffa attacked the conservative news sites that spread the misinformation.

“These viral stories over the internet are just lies perpetrated by anti-union entities to further their destructive agenda,” said Hoffa. “The fact that they are trying, by propagating these false stories, to take advantage of the suffering of millions of citizens in Puerto Rico who desperately need our help only exposes their true nature.”

In addition to the Teamsters, other unions have set up websites where union members can donate to help their union sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico.

Here’s a partial list:






National Nurses United has activated its Registered Nurse Response Network to mobilize nurses who want to go to Puerto Rico and help with relief efforts.

“Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are suffering under unimaginable conditions wrought upon them by Hurricane Maria,” said Hoffa.

He said that Teamsters and other unions will continue to work together to  identify ways in which unions and union members can best assist those in need.

Union: state hiring freeze hurts hurricane relief efforts

The Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU) said that a hiring freeze initiated by the governor eight months ago is impeding Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott in January imposed a hiring freeze on most state agencies. The hiring freeze expired on September 1, but the effects of the freeze continue to hamper efforts to provide help to victims of the massive hurricane that left many Texans unemployed, homeless, hungry, and in need of public assistance.

One of the programs that helps feed disaster victims is called Disaster SNAP, or D-SNAP.

D-SNAP expedites and expands the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)–also known as food stamps–to help feed disaster victims.

But getting D-SNAP to people has been slowed because there are not enough eligibility workers at the state Health and Human Service Commission (HHSC) to process D-SNAP applications.

TSEU says that the after the hiring freeze went into effect 600 eligibility jobs were left vacant.  “That represents an 11 percent reduction in eligibility staff,” said the union in a media release.

“With no new eligibility workers being hired or trained to replace employees who left the agency, HHSC offices already straining under heavy workloads are being slammed by the huge numbers of Texans in need of emergency D-SNAP benefits,” continued the union.

The union said that even though the hiring freeze was lifted on September 1, it will take months to train new hires; consequently at a time when there is a greater need for services, there is a shortage of employees who can help.

“The staffing crisis created by the Governor’s hiring freeze has left HHSC ill-prepared to deal with the urgent need of Harvey’s victims,” said the union.

Because so many hurricane victims need help, eligibility workers all over the state have been working overtime to get D-SNAP and other assistance to people in need.

Some of those eligibility workers are also victims of the hurricane.

“How are we supposed to work this much forced overtime week after week while our homes have been destroyed?” asked Rashel Richardson, an HHSC case worker in Houston. “How are we supposed to concentrate and get people services when we need services ourselves? It’s as if the state has no sympathy for workers who lost everything.”

According to the Texas Tribune, Gov. Abbott imposed the hiring freeze because the state needed to live within its means, and the hiring freeze would free up $200 million that could be spent on “other priorities.”

But the governor didn’t mention that a hiring freeze wouldn’t have been needed if he, his predecessor, and the Legislature hadn’t given businesses more than $10.5 billion in tax cuts between 2011 and 2015.

Abbott and other state leaders said that the tax cuts were needed to sustain the so-called “Texas miracle,” the state’s supposedly miraculous economic growth that was providing a bonanza of jobs and prosperity throughout the state.

But as it turns out, the Texas miracle was more hype than substance.

After four years of super charged tax cuts for the rich and big business, Texas’ unemployment rate ranks 28th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Economic growth has also slowed since the tax cuts went into effect. The Texas economy grew by only 0.4 percent between 2015 and 2016. Over the same period, the economy of the state of Washington grew by 3.7 percent.

While Abbott has been lavish when it comes to cutting taxes for business, he has been a bit more tight-fisted when it comes to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked Gov. Abbott for $50 million to help the city clean up the extensive hurricane debris that has made life in the city difficult.

Gov. Abbott at first declined the request, but eventually agreed to it.

Local officials and Democratic lawmakers have also requested that Gov. Abbott use money from the state’s $10 billion Rainy Day Fund to help provide relief.

TSEU has joined efforts to get the governor to use the Rainy Day Fund to help hurricane victims.

“The Texas State Employees Union is calling on Gov. Abbott to work with Texas lawmakers to tap the Rainy Day Fund to hire additional HHSC permanent staff across the state to provide direct assistance to hurricane victims including state employees who have been impacted by the storm,” said the union.

The Rainy Day Fund was created in 1988 to help the state and its people during hard times, but so far, Gov. Abbott has insisted that conditions aren’t dire enough to tap the fund.