Unions to Trump: Pick up your pen to end offshoring of jobs

A month-long caravan through the Midwest US ended in Washington DC on September 19 with a call for President Trump and Congress to take action to stop the offshoring of US jobs.

The caravan, called the Midwest Pickup Tour, began in Indianapolis, Indiana and stopped at seven other cities in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to hold rallies.

It was organized by the Communication Workers of America (CWA), Good Jobs Nation, and Our Revolution.

At the rallies, those in the caravan had a message for President Trump: pick up your pen and use your legal authority to sign an executive order that bans the awarding of federal contracts to companies that offshore US jobs.

The rallies also urged Congress to pass legislation such as the US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act to protect US jobs from offshoring.

At the final rally in Washington DC, CWA President Chris Shelton said that Trump could and should end the practice of offshoring US jobs.

“It’s time that wealthy corporations stopped sending jobs overseas and abandoning our communities,” said Shelton. “It’s time that elected officials keep their promises. President Trump can sign an executive order today that stops telecom companies and other companies that send good jobs overseas from getting federal contracts. He could have done that seven months ago. Instead, major US companies continue to get taxpayer-funded federal contracts and send our jobs overseas.”

A recent report by Good Jobs Nations and Public Citizen shows that large federal contractors such as General Electric and United Technologies have been awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts while sending more than 50,000 jobs abroad.

“The Trump Administration continues to reward–not punish–US companies that offshore US jobs,” states the report.

Authors of the report compared information from a Department of Labor database and a database of US contracts with private vendors and found that the federal government has awarded $176 billion worth of contracts to companies that offshore jobs.

The report also said 41 percent of the top 100 federal contractors had offshored 58,913 jobs.

The top ten offshoring private contractors are General Electric, United Technologies, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard, General Motors, Siemens, Dell, Ford, Textron, and IBM.

Peter Knowlton, president of United Electrical Workers (UE), was especially critical of GE for offshoring good-paying manufacturing jobs.

“GE has been awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts, (but) it continues to pursue a strategy of destroying unions and driving down wages to improve profits and shareholder value.”

UE has been in a battle with GE over the company’s plans to move hundreds of good-paying jobs out of its Erie, Pennsylvania factory.

Matt McCracken, UE Local 506 executive board member in Erie, said that when he started working for GE, GE’s Erie plant employed 15,000 workers.

Those jobs paid “good livable wage jobs, that gave your family some hope of a better future,” said McCracken.

But since then, GE has moved profitable division after profitable division out of the plant.

“All those jobs were moved away by big business for an extra nickel in profit, all aided and abetted by politicians like Donald Trump,” said McCracken

Knowlton said that the president should go one step further to protect good-paying manufacturing jobs.

“He needs to condition federal contracts on the unfettered freedom to organize and join a union, to enable workers to secure better pay for themselves, their families, and their community,” said Knowlton.

Shelton said that Congress also has a responsibility to protect US jobs from offshoring.

Telecommunication companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have closed call centers all over the US and shipped those jobs abroad.

Those companies in 2016 received $897 million in federal contracts.

Shipping call center jobs abroad has affected 18,000 call center workers, their families, and the communities where they live.

Shelton said that the US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, would protect workers from offshoring.

It requires “that US callers be told the location of the call center to which they are speaking; offer callers the opportunity to be connected to a US-based center if preferred; and make US companies who offshore their call center jobs from the US ineligible for certain federal grants and taxpayer-funded loans,” said Shelton.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and four other US senators sent President Trump a letter urging him to pick up a pen and sign the executive order.

“We need to send a very loud and very clear message to corporate America: the era of outsourcing is over,” stated the letter to Trump. “Instead of offshoring jobs, the time has come for you to start bringing good-paying jobs back to the United States of America.”

“If you are serious about ending offshoring and helping the American worker, you will issue an executive order ending government contracts for companies that offshore American jobs,” concluded the letter to the president.

 

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Government contract workers strike for a living wage and unionization of their jobs

Who employs the most low-wage workers in the US?

According to a report published by Demos, it’s the US government.

About 2 million workers, who provide services funded by the federal government either directly through outsourcing contracts or through grants and subsidies to companies that perform work for the government or the public, make $12 an hour or less.

About 500 of these workers on April 15 staged a one-day strike in Washington DC to demand better pay and the unionization of their jobs.

They were joined by another 500 supporters at a rally at the Capitol.

“(These workers) feed the generals in the Pentagon, they also personally serve US senators, some of whom are running to be the next president of the United States,” said Joseph Geevarghese of Good Jobs Nation, the organizer of the April 22 strike at the rally. “These workers strike because they want our nation to know that their taxpayer dollars are keeping everyday Americans in poverty.”

In addition to the Senate and Pentagon, striking workers work at the Department of Education, Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, the Capitol Visitors Service, and for the National Park Services providing custodial, maintenance, food, transportation, and other services.

They work for companies such as Compass Global, an international outsourcing company, Sabree Environmental and Construction, Inc., which describes itself as “a full service provider and defense contractor with multifaceted capabilities,” and Open Top Sightseeing, owned by Big Bus Tours, another international company that provides bus sightseeing service all over the world.

The striking workers want President Obama to sign an executive order that will ensure that government contracts are awarded to companies that pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour, provide benefits, and respect collective bargaining rights. They’re calling their proposed executive order the Model Employer Executive Order.

One of the workers on strike is Bertrand Olotara, who wrote an opinion piece recently published in the Guardian.

“I am walking off my job because I want the presidential hopefuls to know that I live in poverty,” writes Olotara, who makes $12 an hour as a cook in the Senate office building.

Olotara has to work a second job and still has trouble making ends meet. He’s a single father and relies on food stamps to keep his children fed.

Olotara works for Compass Global.

Another worker who was on strike is Sonia Chavez who along with her husband cleans offices in the Education Department building.

Officially Chavez works for Ace Janitorial Services, but according to Good Jobs Nation, Ace is a front for the more high-profile Sabree Construction and Environmental.

Chavez, who is paid only $9.50 an hour, has charged Sabree with wage theft and she along with her co-workers are seeking $472,500 in back pay that they are owed.

“My husband and I are federal contract workers who clean the office of the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,” said Chavez at a media conference. “The Secretary of Education likes to speak about a “Race to the Top” on education. But the truth is we also need a “Race to the Top” on wages.”

Providing services for the government hasn’t always been low-wage, low-benefit work.

Before the government began privatizing many of these services, some of the work paid decent wages, came with benefits, and allowed some workers to establish a toe hold in the middle class.

“Jobs that provided a path to the middle class for million in the past are now creating a vast army comprised of the working poor,” reads a report on government contract labor published by Good Jobs Nation.

Women and people of color have been especially hard hit since the government joined the race to the bottom.

According to Good Jobs Nation, 70 percent of the federal government’s contract workers are women and 45 percent are people of color.

74 percent of the government’s contract workers make $10 an hour or less, 60 percent receive no benefits, and 36 percent receive some form of public assistance.

“Our nation cannot boast of being the land of the free, while allowing companies to pay wages that enslave its citizens to debt, poverty, and an inability to provide a decent living for themselves, their children and generations to come,” said Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office, at the strike’s media conference.

“The US government should not be America’s biggest low wage job creator,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders at the media conference. Sanders went on to say that “if you work 40 hours a week, you should make enough to take care of your kids and your family.”

Smithsonian food service workers join UNITE HERE

More than 200 food service workers at two Smithsonian museums in Washington DC will soon be negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement with their employer, the Compass Group.

The workers, who work at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History, joined UNITE HERE Local 25.

About one week before Christmas, the union announced that Compass Group, a global company that manages restaurants at the two museums, agreed to recognize and bargain with its workers’ union.

Food service and other low-wage workers working for private contractors at the 19 Smithsonian museums, galleries, and national zoo in the Washington DC area have engaged in a series of one-day strikes that began last spring. The workers are demanding a living wage.

“We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do,” said Luis (no last name given), who works at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s McDonald’s during the most recent strike on December 5. “It’s tough to keep a roof over our heads making $8.25 an hour.”

The work stoppages have been organized by Good Jobs Nation, a workers center supported by SEIU that helps low-wage workers working for federal contractors in the Washington DC area to organize and fight employer abuses.

A report by Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith of Demos estimates that two million employees working for private businesses that contract with the federal government to provide services to the public throughout the US make $12 or less an hour.

A living wage calculator developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that a living wage in the Washington DC area is $13.68 an hour.

John W. Anderson, speaking to Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher, said that he hopes a new collective bargaining agreement with Compass Group will lead to a raise, so that he and his son can move into an apartment of their own. He currently rents a room.

Anderson, a line cook at the American History Museum now makes $10.50 an hour. He told the Post what he hopes to gain by joining UNITE HERE.

“Our company has already taken some strides to help us,” he said. “Now I am excited that (joining the union) is another step closer to having somebody speaking for us so we can have some livable wages.”

Negotiations on the new contract are to begin in January.

Good Jobs Nation leads low-wage workers protest against federal contractors

Led by workers carrying a banner reading, “Smithsonian Workers on Strike,” 50 workers on July 11 marched through the streets of Washington DC to demand a living wage and to protest wage theft.

The workers, members of Good Jobs Nation, work for private contractors at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and American History Museum.

Their action last Thursday was the latest in a series of one-day strikes by low-wage workers at federal buildings in Washington DC.

The workers work for private companies that contract with the government to provide a wide array of services at federal facilities including food service, maintenance, and gift shop work.

“I have worked at the McDonald’s in the Air and Space Museum for nine years,” said Ana Hernandez, a Good Jobs Nation member. “And while my employer and the government make lots of money off of my work, I still only make $8.25 an hour.

“As a single mom, I struggle to afford the basics my family needs. Imagine trying to raise your family on $11,000 a year. You have to make hard choices, like putting food on the table or paying the bills. Having electricity or buying clothes for your children. We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do – and that’s why we went on strike last week.”

Earlier in the week, Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor alleging wage theft by eight food vendors at the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center.

The complaint alleges that the contractors pay wages below the federal minimum wage and don’t follow federal overtime laws.

Good Jobs Nation is also asking President Obama to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage.

As it turns out, the federal government is the largest employer of low-wage workers. According to a report by Demos, 2 million private sector workers working for federal contractors make $12 an hour or less, more than the number of low-wage workers who work for McDonald’s or Walmart.

“These workers represent a large spectrum of occupations, from workers sewing military uniforms to hospital aides funded by Medicare, security guards with contracts to protect public buildings, and food cart vendors at the National Zoo,” write Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith in their introduction to the report.

Earlier this month, food service workers at the Reagan federal building in Washington DC staged a one-day strike.

Another Good Jobs Nation march and rally is planned for July 18.

After Smithsonian workers walked off the job on July 11, the Smithsonian management tried to assure the public that there were no real grievances among workers at the museums and that a strike did not take place.

Good Jobs Nation responded with a public statement by Hernandez. “The most shocking exhibit at the Smithsonian is the poverty wages workers are earning while serving food at the largest museum in the world,” she said. “And they won’t succeed in silencing our voices.”