WHEN DELEGATES TO the 43rd annual Legislative Education Action Program (LEAP) conference gather in Washington, D.C., March 21, they will encounter a much different political picture than existed last year.
The November 2010 mid-term elections produced an historic number of new members of Congress. Delegates will need to introduce our union to the staffs of these new representatives and senators, and outline our priorities on the issues impacting the Brotherhood’s diverse membership.
Many new Republican members of Congress — particularly those backed by the Tea Party Movement — are likely to be hostile to organized labor’s legislative and policy goals. Nevertheless, the Boilermakers union must make our voices heard if we are to advance an agenda that creates jobs and protects worker benefits.
A number of initiatives we had hoped would become law in the last Congress were blocked by Republicans and the powerful business lobby. These initiatives (such as reforming broken labor laws) are unlikely to gain traction in the current political environment.
Facing the reality of a Republican-controlled House, our union will take a strategic approach to make progress where possible while guarding against attacks on essential programs.
Key issues that Boilermakers will discuss on “the Hill” are described below.
Advancing Clean Energy from Coal
LAST YEAR, OUR union was a leading voice behind efforts to invest in new energy technologies that will encourage energy independence, reduce harmful emissions, and create millions of good-paying jobs. A comprehensive energy bill — one that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions to finance investments in clean coal and other advanced energy technologies — is now off the table. We must continue our efforts to encourage deployment of these essential energy solutions.
Our highest priority for construction sector Boilermakers remains investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS). The United States must establish itself as a leader in this job-creating technology to ensure a strong future for coal-fired power generation. Legislation introduced in the prior Congress (the Carbon and Capture and Storage Deployment Act) would have established the framework we need to move this technology off the drawing board and begin unlocking the enormous job opportunities possible through the deployment of CCS technology.
Introduced by Senators John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), the act would achieve the following: 1) authorize a cooperative industry-government research and development program in the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, 2) establish a $20 billion “Pioneer Phase” fund to help offset technological and economic risks for early technology developers, 3) create an “Early Adopter Program” with tax credits based on the amount of carbon dioxide captured, 4) set a technology standard requiring power plants to be retrofitted with demonstrated CCS technology, and 5) establish a legal and regulatory framework for long-term stewardship and liability.
In addition to supporting this act, we will urge Congress to adopt legislation establishing a “Clean Energy Development Administration” to provide loans and loan guarantees to the private sector to invest in the deployment of innovating energy technologies.
Rebuilding the Shipbuilding Industrial Base
AS WITH PREVIOUS conferences, we will continue to press Congress to adopt sensible policies to encourage employment in America’s shipyards. The urgency of these issues is increasing as shipyards continue to decline and consolidate. In the past year, two shipyards that employ Boilermakers have threatened closure, and the future work prospects in the sector remain tenuous.
Specific recommendations for the Naval and Coast Guard budgets will be developed upon the release of President Obama’s budget. The Boilermakers remain committed to the goals and principles of the National Shipbuilding Budget Policy Act, introduced in the 111th Congress by Congressman Rob Wittman (R-1ST VA). These principles call for a more robust and consistent annual shipbuilding budget to help reach the minimum goal of a 313-ship navy. At a minimum, a $20 billion annual shipbuilding budget will be required to meet those goals.
Two other long-standing legislative priorities remain on our agenda. First, our union will continue to call on Congress to restrict the Navy’s practice of leasing foreign-built vessels for long-term defense use. Currently, evidence suggests the Navy relies on as many as 12 foreign-owned, foreign-built vessels for military sealift support — offering no employment opportunities and contributing to the decline of the defense industrial base.
Second, we will continue to call for increased funding of the Title XI Ship Loan Guarantee Program. Replacement of our nation’s aging Jones Act fleet is critical to America’s economic and security needs. The Title XI Program provides small- and medium-sized ship owners with affordable finance rates at reasonable terms to allow ship owners to replace and expand their fleet. Commercial shipbuilding creates and sustains good jobs in U.S. shipyards, and provides modern sealift capability for national security. An FY 2012 appropriation of $60 million will finance up to $1.2 billion in new ship construction, creating and sustaining roughly 13,000 U.S. shipyard jobs, and tens of thousands of jobs in the supplier base.
Trade Agreements and China’s Currency Manipulation
BOILERMAKERS AND OTHER union workers in the manufacturing sector know all too well the negative impacts of a trade policy written by and for multi-national corporations. Since the enactment of NAFTA, so called “free trade” agreements have encouraged business interests to drive down wages, outsource jobs to low-wage countries, and undermine American manufacturing. Unfortunately, pursuing a misguided and shortsighted trade agenda has happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Korea Free Trade Agreement: This year, the Obama Administration announced its intention to pursue ratification of a trade agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush with South Korea. The agreement remains fundamentally flawed, and we must oppose it. Organized labor has argued for years that the investment and government procurement provisions in the Korea deal will encourage off-shoring.
It is clear that in both the United States and South Korea, workers continue to face repeated challenges to their exercise of fundamental human rights on the job — especially freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively. This deal does nothing to improve or strengthen the provisions negotiated by Bush in these crucial areas. It is essential that both countries bring their labor laws and practice fully into compliance with international standards prior to implementation of the agreement.
Colombia Free Trade Agreement: The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would give special trade preferences to a government that has done little to respect workers’ rights, and whose record on labor rights is among the worst in the world. The agreement — like the Korea FTA — is another in a series of bad trade pacts negotiated by the Bush White House that have contributed to a U.S. trade deficit of $677 billion in 2008, massive job loss, and shrinking paychecks.
Workers across both countries oppose passage of the FTA until certain changes are made. First, workers must be able to fully exercise, without fear, core international labor rights. Second, Colombia must make real progress to end the impunity which is permitted for those who commit violence against trade unionists. And last, the agreement must be amended to address persistent criticisms of the trade model.
End China’s Currency Manipulation: The United States must pursue fundamental changes in our trade relationship with China and seek to ensure American workers and businesses are not placed at a disadvantage in the global economy.
China’s currency manipulation is a major cause of America’s growing trade deficit. Since China joined the WTO in 2001, 2.4 million jobs have been lost or displaced as a result of the growing trade disparity with China. Jobs have been lost in every Congressional district. According to most economists, China’s currency is deliberately undervalued by at least 40 percent. This policy artificially raises the price of U.S. exports and gives Chinese goods a competitive edge in our market and other markets around the globe.
Last year the House, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, adopted the “Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act.” This legislation strengthens the Commerce Department’s authority to use countervailing duties on imports that benefit from a country’s currency manipulation practices. Unfortunately, the clock ran out before the bill could be adopted by the Senate and sent to the president. This is the year to get this important legislation across the finish line.
Protect Worker Benefits
WITH MORE ANTI-LABOR senators and members of Congress, we will need to stay focused and proactive to protect the programs on which Americans rely. While our nation must take appropriate steps to address our long-term fiscal challenges, we cannot balance the budget on the backs of those most at risk.
Unemployment Insurance: On Dec. 16, 2010 Congress approved an $858 billion tax bill allowing extended unemployment compensation to continue for an additional 13 months. Because UI has to be brought up for renewal by Congress under the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation program, Americans will remain uncertain about their unemployment benefits during this protracted recovery. We will be back fighting for the renewal of these benefits later this year if companies refuse to start hiring workers and unemployment remains at the currently high rate of 9%.
With state budgets already stretched thin, many states are struggling to keep up with the demands on their UI system.
Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Benefits: TAA benefits provide reemployment services and benefits to workers who have lost their jobs or suffered a reduction of hours and wages resulting from increased imports or shifts in production outside the United States. To qualify, workers must be directly impacted by imports or by a shift in production of their firm to any country with a free trade agreement with the United States, or by certain other shifts in production.
Some Republicans, including Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), have made cynical attempts to tie the extension of TAA benefits to passage of more free trade agreements — the very policies that result in more workers needing to rely on government programs for retraining and support. We must ensure that TAA is extended this year, regardless of the outcome of debates on more trade deals.
Social Security: Social Security, arguably the federal government’s most successful and most appreciated program, will take center stage in 2011 as Congress and the White House attempt to deal with the national deficit. Already some lawmakers are calling for increasing the retirement age and cutting benefits, among other suggestions. However, the truth is Social Security is not in crisis, and it has not caused the federal deficit. Currently, it has a $2.6 trillion accumulated surplus, which will grow to $4.2 trillion by 2025. Social Security can pay all benefits in full through 2037. Moreover, Social Security’s long-range funding gap, which will appear 27 years from now, is very modest — the equivalent of the costs of maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans.
There will be a vigorous debate over the future of Social Security, and the Department of Government Affairs will be fully engaged in it. As in the past, the Department will strongly oppose any attempts to “privatize” Social Security or otherwise undermine the foundation for a secure retirement for most Americans.