The Minnesota Building Trades Council, which represents the 40,000 members of Minnesota’s building and construction trade unions, voted today to endorse Mark Dayton for Governor.

“It’s time to build a better Minnesota,” said Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council President Harry Melander. “And we need to start by electing a governor who will stand with working people – all the time. Not just when it is politically convenient. Mark Dayton has shown us that we can count on him.”

“I am very honored to receive the endorsement of the hardworking men and women of the Minnesota Building Trades,” Dayton said today. “As Governor, putting Minnesotans to work in good-paying jobs with good benefits will be my top priority.”

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of LIUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said President Obama’s job creation plan announced Monday in Milwaukee “is exactly what our nation needs.”

LIUNA represents a half million workers, many of whom work in the construction industry which has been hit hard by the recession. The industry’s unemployment rate stood at 17 percent in August. Minnesota is among the states with the highest percentage of unemployment among construction workers.

“For too long, the basics of America have been allowed to deteriorate, threatening our ability to move goods and people and to compete in the global economy,” O’Sullivan said. “While nations such as China invest upwards of 10 percent of their GDP in new superhighways, bullet trains and other critical infrastructure, the U.S. has fallen behind, investing about 2 percent.

“Meanwhile, 1.5 million men and women in the construction industry who want to go to work today building the basics of our country are jobless.”

Obama’s plan will not only provide jobs, but will help spur a recovery because construction is a key driver in the economy, O’Sullivan said.

“LIUNA looks forward to working with the President and Congress as details of the president’s plan are formed,” he said.

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In a Labor Day address to more than 10,000 union members and their families in Milwaukee, President Obama announced a massive new job-creating road, rail, runway and air traffic control rebuilding project.

Speaking to the Milwaukee Area Labor Council’s annual LaborFest celebration, Obama said it was “the great American middle class that made our economy the envy of the world. It’s got to be that way again.”

“It was folks like you, after all, who forged that middle class,” the president said. “It was working men and women who made the 20th century the American century. It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today — the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans, those cornerstones of middle class security that all bear the union label.”

Joining Obama at the lakefront festivities were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Labor Council Secretary Sheila Cochran and Wisconsin AFL-CIO President David Newby.

Trumka told the crowd, “Working women and men in Milwaukee — and all across our country—made America ‘No. 1’ in the world. Now it’s time for America to make working people ‘No.1!’

“It’s time for JOBS. For economic patriotism. I want to see the words “Made in America” again—because it’s time to start exporting the things we make, instead of jobs!”

Obama said the massive rebuilding project will build on the investments already made under the Recovery Act, and “create jobs for American workers to strengthen our economy now, and increase our nation’s growth and productivity in the future.”

According to the White House, the $50 billion plan would:

Rebuild 150,000 miles of roads — renewing our commitment to the backbone of our transportation system;

Construct and maintain 4,000 miles of rail — enough to go coast-to-coast;

Rehabilitate or reconstruct 150 miles of runway — while putting in place a next generation air traffic control system that will reduce travel time and delays;

Create a national infrastructure bank.

Don Burmester, a member of Machinists Local 66, said the emphasis on jobs is just the message he wanted to hear, and the message that needs to be sent in November.

“We need to get regular people back to work,” he said. “I’ve seen the other party put political games ahead of anything decent to make the president look bad. We need to get the focus back on the economy and away from foolish political plays.”

With just 57 days to go before the Nov. 2 election and with control of Congress at stake, Trumka said that Obama and Democratic leaders “share our vision of an America built on good jobs—and together, we’re going to get America back to work. It won’t be the bankers. It won’t be the Tea Partiers. It won’t be the Party of NO. It’ll be you. It’ll be us. Together.”

The day kicked off with a parade of more than 6,000 union members. The Milwaukee LaborFest, which dates back to 1965, was just one of hundreds of Labor Day events that working people held across the nation to call for good jobs, a stronger middle class and high voter turn-out for November’s midterm elections.

Mike Hall writes for the AFL-CIO news blog, where this report originally appeared. Karen Hickey, Wisconsin AFL-CIO political field communications assistant, contributed to this story.

21 Resolutions were adopted by the delegates to the 68th BCTD Convention held August 18-19, 2010 in Minneapolis, among them: Establish the Term of Office for the Chairman of the Canadian Executive Board; Title of the Director of Canadian Affairs;  and Eligibility to Serve as a Building Trades State, Provincial or Local Council Officer. All resolutions are listed in this article, along with a highlights VIDEO from the convention.

Video Highlights Video Resolutions Adopted by the 68th Convention of the
Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
August 18-19, 2010
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Resolution #1 – Establish the Term of Office for the Chairman of the Canadian Executive Board

“The Canadian Executive Board shall elect a Chairman from among its members for a term of 3 years. The Chairman shall preside at all Board meetings and shall have the right to cast a deciding vote in all cases before the Board. The Chairman may appoint committees and shall work in an advisory capacity with the Director of Canadian Affairs. In the event of a vacancy, the Canadian Executive Board shall elect a successor Chairman, who shall serve for the remainder of the unexpired term.”

Resolution #2 – Title of the Director of Canadian Affairs

“The Director shall be the Canadian Operating Officer responsible for the Department’s operations in Canada.”

Resolution #3 - Constitutional Amendment Adopted by the Governing Board of Presidents Since the Last Convention

Article VIII, Section 1(b) – “A per capita tax of sixty (60) cents, per member per month, paid by each affiliated National and International Union upon its membership engaged in building and construction work.”

Resolution #4 – Eligibility to Serve as a Building Trades State, Provincial or Local Council Officer

All State, Provincial and Local Building and Construction Trades Councils strictly adhere to the Department’s Constitution and Solidarity Charter program by requiring that all officers of State, Provincial and Local Building Trades Councils be members in good standing of a National or International Union affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Department or members in good standing of a Local Union or District Council that has a full Solidarity Charter.

Resolution #5 - The Building Trades Multi-Craft Core Curriculum for Pre-Apprenticeship: Gateway to Careers in the Construction Crafts

All Building and Construction Trades Councils and their affiliates, as well as affiliated joint apprenticeship and training committees, support efforts to establish partnerships with community-based organizations, public schools, community colleges, and public agencies to establish and maintain the Building and Construction Trades Department’s Multi-Craft Core Curriculum Pre-Apprenticeship programs; and that all Building and Construction Trades Councils develop strategies to utilize the Multi-craft Core Curriculum as a vital community link in the negotiation and implementation of project labor agreements/community benefits agreements.

Resolution #6 – Emerald Cities Collaborative

The Building and Construction Trades Department and its affiliated National and International Unions continue to support the Emerald Cities Collaborative; and that all Building and Construction Trades Councils seek to establish an ECC program in their area in order to green our cities in ways that address the threat of climate change and chart a high-road path to economic revitalization, to build our communities in ways that create good jobs and promote equality, and to strengthen our democracy in ways that give greater voice to community and labor groups and increase access to consequential decision-making about the urban future.

Resolution #7 – Value on Display…Every Day

The Building and Construction Trades Department will continue and expand its “Value on Display . . . Every Day” branding and marketing effort, and that all Building and Construction Trades Councils in the U.S. and Canada actively support the program and instill every rank and file member with the idea that we are all ambassadors for the union construction industry “brand,” and that through our combined actions, attitudes and performance, we will collectively advance the unionized sector of the construction industry.

Resolution #8 – Helmets to Hardhats Program

The Building and Construction Trades Department commends and continues to support the Helmets to Hardhats program; and all State and Local Building Trades Councils and their affiliated Local Unions are encouraged to give their full support to our returning service members and members of the National Guard and Reserves by registering with the program and listing membership, employment and apprenticeship opportunities on the Helmets to Hardhats website.

Resolution # 9 – Memorial Resolution

Delegates were asked to stand in a moment of prayer and remembrance in honor of our departed brothers and in respectful memory of their many contributions to the Trade Union Movement and to our Nations.

International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers: Thomas Allen, Don Cain, Noble Cain, Richard Howard, Thomas Kilroe, William Leslie, George Ripley, III, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: John ‘Jack’ Barry, BernardWilliamson, Richard Dowling, Clyde Bowden, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers: William J. Cartwright, Martin T. Byrne, Ronald Karas, Sidney S. Stoddard, James E.Moran, Jacob F.West, Charles Most, James J.Willis, Sr., Edmund Lojko, Robert F. Arric, Sr., RayWatt, William N. Coleman, James A. Hathman, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers: Roger Hamilton, James Amellin, George Snyder, James Mulhern, George Boylan, James Dwyer, John Griffiths, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades: Jack T. Cox, GuyW. Leber, Fred C. Hagen, Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association of the United States and Canada: Dominic A. Martell, Robert T. Beam, Ronald K. Bowser, James J. Boyle, Ronald E. Thelin, Allan K. Erwin, James W. Thomas, Orlando J. “Raleigh” Balotta Richard J. Gonzalez, Freddie M. Lucero, Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association: Raymond Boucher, Joseph F. Demark, Frederick Kirschner, William S. Mazur, John T. O’Connor, George Tapling, United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers: Earl J. Kruse, Salvatore J. Ponzio, William K. Penrose, Richard Zatkoff, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada: Marvin J. Boede, Joseph A. Walsh, Louis J. Ackerman, Donald J. Devitt, Jack Pennington, J. Russ St. Eloi

Resolution #10 – Revising the H-2B Temporary Worker Program

Instructs the Building and Construction Trades Department to support rapid regulatory reform of the H-2B process to require State Workforce Agency review of employer applications for H-2B temporary labor certifications and to revoke regulations authorizing employer attestation; and support an end to three-year “temporary” labor certifications in the construction industry, and suspension of the issuance of all temporary work visas to fill positions in the construction industry during any period of moderate to high unemployment, except in the unusual circumstance of geographically-isolated skill shortages, particularly related to power outages; and that the Department support changes to the Temporary Worker Visa program to require employers to demonstrate that they have unsuccessfully sought to recruit American workers by offering wages and benefits exceeding those rates and benefits determined by the U.S. Department of Labor to prevail in the area where the work is to be performed; and support adoption of a mechanism to debar from the H-2B program, for a period of up to three (3) years, employers, attorneys, and agents who commit willful violations of its requirements.

Resolution #11 – Safe Green and Sustainable Construction

The Building and Construction Trades Department and its affiliated National and International Unions shall pursue with the Obama Administration the adoption of a Presidential Executive Order modeled on EO 13514 that calls for the Federal Government to use high performance safety and health practices in green and sustainable construction; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department’s non-profit research and training organization, CPWR -The Center for Construction Research and Training, and its Federal Government research partner, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, continue to explore ways in which to incorporate construction safety and health considerations into green and sustainable construction.

Resolution #12 - A Program to Eliminate the Disproportionate Health Risks Faced by High Risk Professions

Encourages efforts to eradicate the disproportionate health and safety risks of populations designated as "high risk professions" and enable health plans serving such populations to meet the preventive services requirements of the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program by developing, testing and deploying preventive, health promotion, wellness and health care quality interventions specially designed for the health plans that cover such populations and their employers; and because health and welfare funds stand in the shoes of employers in providing employment-based health benefits, such funds should form the cornerstone of a program to address the disproportionate risks of these professions, working with their participants and the unions and contractors that are signatory to the collective bargaining agreements; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department and its affiliated National and International Unions urge the Administration, acting through the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, to implement the program by awarding cooperative agreements to organizations with demonstrated track records of working with high risk professions, for the purpose of (1) developing and testing prevention, health promotion, wellness and quality of care interventions and (2) creating outreach campaigns through employers, unions, and their qualified health plans, to reach employees engaged in high risk professions and the families of such employees, to promote prevention, health promotion, wellness and quality of care; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department and its affiliated National and International Unions urge the Appropriations Committees of Congress to direct funding for such a program under the authority granted them in Section 4002(d)of the Act; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department request the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-employer Plans’ Research and Education Corporation and the CPWR -The Center for Construction Research and Training to seek funding from the available funds in the Prevention and Public Health Fund to develop, test and deploy the requisite preventive, health promotion, wellness and health care quality interventions, building on the experience they have gained from the United Against Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (UAD/CVD) program, and enlisting such national expertise as is available to produce the best possible results for our members, their dependents, and our health and welfare funds.

Resolution #13 – Ban on the Use of Asbestos

Instructs the Building and Construction Trades Department to support initiatives and work with groups, such as the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) and the Mesothelioma Advanced Research Foundation (MARF), to educate the general public and Congress on the devastation caused by asbestos and to find a cure for mesothelioma and other diseases caused by asbestos exposure; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department propose and support a complete ban on the importation, manufacturing, processing, and commercial distribution of asbestos-containing products in the United States and Canada.

Resolution #14 - Mechanical Insulation for Job Creation and Building Energy Efficiency

Instructs the Building and Construction Trades Department to authorize and direct its leadership to contact members of Congress to support the Building Star Energy Efficiency Act of 2010 (Senate Bill S.3079, and House Bill H.R. 5476) and the Mechanical Insulation Installation Incentive Act of 2009 (Senate Bill S. 3716, and House Bill H.R. 4296), to promote the use of mechanical insulation for the benefits it provides in creating jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the safety and health of America’s workers, and protecting our environment, through encouraging adherence to energy efficiency building guidelines; incorporating mechanical insulation in such guidelines and facility certification programs; supporting the creation of incentives and rebates for undertaking energy efficient building measures, including the use of mechanical insulation; and helping to advance nationwide education and awareness efforts for commercial and industrial sectors on the importance of mechanical insulation and overall energy efficiency measures.

Resolution #15 - Native American Initiatives to Promote Training and Secure Jobs

Encourages the Building and Construction Trades Department and its affiliates to continue to work to expand their relationship with these Native American entities to provide training, work and apprenticeship opportunities for Native Americans on Indian lands, while simultaneously expanding work opportunities for the membership of the affiliates.

Resolution #16 – Loan Guarantees

The Building and Construction Trades Department will continue to support thoughtful implementation of a Title XVII loan guarantee program that removes improper rule-based impediments and arbitrary limits that are inconsistent with the underlying statutes and congressional intent; and that the Building and Construction Trades Department urge the President and his Administration to provide direction to OMB, DOE and Treasury on the proper implementation of this critical Federal Credit program.

Resolution #17 – Industry Partners

The Building and Construction Trades Department will continue its efforts to work with its industry partners to strengthen existing relationships, while endeavoring to develop new industry partnerships within key, growth-oriented industries.

Resolution #18 – Bipartisanship

Encourages the Building and Construction Trades Department continue its efforts to work with and support elected officials at the state, provincial, local and federal levels – regardless of their political party affiliation – who seek to promote and advance an agenda that fosters growth and sustainability for our industry and the workers we represent.

Resolution #19 - “Project Type Zero” – A Program to Support Diabetes Research until the Diabetes Epidemic is Eradicated

The Building and Construction Trades Department and its affiliated National and International Unions are directed to renew their twenty-five year-old commitment to finding a cure for diabetes by continuing to raise funds on behalf of the Diabetes Research Institute through a new umbrella organization titled “Project Type Zero: The Hope for a Diabetes Free Tomorrow;” and that this program continue to raise funds with the help of State and Local Building and Construction Trades Councils around the country and their annual Dollar’s Against Diabetes programs; and that it be the responsibility of Project Type Zero to support the efforts of the State and Local Building and Construction Trades Councils through continuously improved communication and an up-to-date website; and that Project Type Zero also continue to organize the annual Labor of Love golf outing, by marketing the event to the Building and Construction Trades Department’s largest friends and supporters; and that Project Type Zero uphold the Building and Construction Trades Department’s recent commitment to the Diabetes Research Institute of raising $5 million in the next five years; and that Project Type Zero and the Building and Construction Trades Department work for a minimum of five years towards finding a cure for diabetes, with the intent of supporting this effort until a cure for this growing disease is found.

Resolution #20 – Misclassification of Workers as Independent Contractors

Directs this Convention to stand united against the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and that the Department and its affiliates take steps to educate the general public, as well as lawmakers, about the gravity of the misclassification crisis, and that the Department and its affiliates work tirelessly to ensure passage of EMPA and the TRAC Acts, as well as similar legislation in Canada designed to end this underground practice.

Resolution #21 – State, Provincial and Local Building Trades Council Bylaws

The first paragraph of Article XII of the Department’s Constitution be amended by adding the following sentence at the end of the paragraph:

“A Local Council must have Bylaws that have been approved by the Department not more than five years, but not less than 90 days, prior to the Convention in order to be entitled to have representation at the convention.”

The second paragraph of Article XII of the Department’s Constitution be amended by adding the following sentence at the end of the paragraph:

“A State or Provincial Council must have Bylaws that have been approved by the Department not more than five years, but not less than 90 days, prior to the Convention in order to be entitled to have representation at the Convention.”

Ohio State University has put together a list of 20 questions which the IRS uses to determine if a worker is an independent contractor or employee. The answer of yes to any one of the questions (except #16) may mean the worker is an employee. This may be a useful list for business agents or organizers to use if there is some doubt about the status of a worker.

Small Business Series Worksheet
A person working for a business as an employee or independent contractor is an important distinction. The first question is who determines if a person performing work for a business is an employee or an independent contractor? Answer: the IRS. The second question is how will a business who misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor get caught? Answer: IRS audit of the business, unemployment claim filed by a former worker, or a claim filed for worker's compensation benefits filed by a worker, a former contractor filing a Form SS-8 (Determination of Employee Work Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income tax Withholding) to mention a few. The third question is what are the consequences of being caught and having an independent contractor reclassified as an employee? Answer: the employer becomes responsible for both the employers and employees FICA (15.3% of gross wages), FUTA (currently $56 per year per employee), as well as the federal income tax (20% of gross wages). The IRS may also bring in the state and as a result, the employer may also become liable for the state income tax, as well as state unemployment and worker's compensation. Employer's may also face a penalty equal to the amount of the back taxes owed. Likewise, the employer will owe interest on all back taxes from the due dates. And, the business may be required to support the injured person for the rest of their life.

Ohio StateUniversity Fact Sheet
Community Development
700 Ackerman Road, Suite 235
Columbus, OH 43202-1578

Small Business Series
Employee or Independant Contractor

Tom Willett
Issue of Correct Classification

The United States is mired in an urgent jobs crisis. Despite some early signs of a sustained economic recovery, in many parts of the country the debilitating fallout from the Great Recession on employment remains a painful fact of daily life. Few industries have felt the economic downturn harder than the construction industry, which suffered the most from the consequences of a decade of gross mismanagement of our nation’s mortgage markets and financial services industries.

The unemployment rate in the construction industry hovers at Depression-era levels, remaining near 25 percent for three straight months by March of this year. Between 2006 and early 2010, total payroll employment in construction fell by 2.1 million jobs, with residential construction declining by 38 percent, meaning that more than one in three construction workers lost their job as a result of this recession. And this collapse in construction cascades across other industries as well. Construction-related retail jobs fell by 14 percent, and manufacturing jobs in wood products by 30 percent over the same period.

Collapsing demand for labor in construction industries is devastating to American families and communities nationwide. To confront this crisis, the U.S. jobs market needs sustained new demand for the skills of construction workers that is grounded in providing real value to the economy through enhanced productivity, greater efficiency, and improved asset value for real estate. For that to happen, we need a sound strategy for investment in our nation’s stock of residential and commercial buildings—a strategy that will get banks lending again, put construction crews back on the job, and improve the long-term economic value of buildings for homeowners, businesses, and investors alike.

Such a solution is readily available. Our country needs a national program to retrofit America’s homes, offices, and factories for energy efficiency—a program that can provide an important answer to the jobs crisis facing our country (see box on page 2). But it will take public policy leadership to mobilize the private sector investment that is needed to grow this emerging market. Fortunately, many states around the country are already demonstrating that with public sector leadership it is possible to jumpstart market demand for energy efficiency retrofits of our homes and businesses.

Read more in this paper by By Bracken Hendricks, Bill Campbell, and Pen Goodale at the Center for American Progress and Energy Resource Management as they look at state regulations and incentives for energy efficiency that are working today in leading states to accelerate demand for energy efficiency services, businesses, and ultimately jobs.

Read more and download the full report here.

On June 16, construction unions in South Dakota signed off on the first Project Labor Agreement in the state for a project that will actually be built. On Aug. 2, ground was broken for Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Deer Creek Station near White, S.D., just 20 miles from the Minnesota border.

By Larry Sillanpa, Duluth Labor World editor
The $405 million project is a 300-net megawatt natural gas generation facility. It is expected to take about 18 months to build, employing well over 400 construction workers. When completed in June 2012 it is expected to have 31 full-time employees and be connected to the grid via a 345-kilovolt transmission line less than one mile in length.

“This is the second South Dakota PLA, but the first we’ll actually get to work on, and we really need the work for our members,” said Eastern South Dakota Building & Construction Trades Council Executive Director Mike Rifen.

A previous PLA was for the Big Stone II coal plant but it was never built.

The Deer Creek PLA is a National Construction Agreement with International Unions of the Building & Construction Trades.

Rifen said the PLA/NCA wasn’t as big a fight as expected because Basin Electric has had some history working with unions for powerhouses they’ve built in North Dakota, which, like South Dakota, is a right-to-work state.

The 1947 Taft Hartley Act amended the National Labor Relations Act to, among other things, allow state legislatures to outlaw union security clauses. A right-to-work law prevents unions from negotiating contracts that require employers to fire workers who refuse to join the union. The South Dakota AFL-CIO can claim only about 8,000 members.

Oscar Boldt Construction of Appleton, Wis., is the general contractor for Deer Creek. They are well known in the Midwest as a good union contractor. Finding union subcontractors for all aspects of the project could be a little tougher.

“There is a low density addendum in the PLA that calls for as many union subs as possible, but if one can’t be found then they can use a non-union contractor,” said Rifen. “We’re hoping for a hundred percent union, but we have free range to talk to any subs.”

With the work picture so poor throughout the Midwest, unions may be well served to have their signatory contractors bid on Deer Creek work.

“South Dakota is fertile ground because of all the energy work coming there,” said Mike Sundin, a Business Marketing Development Consultant for Painters & Allied Crafts District Council 82. “I’m proud to have been a small part of something so historic for South Dakota trade unions and we’re hoping it’s the beginning of something big.”

Rifen said the economy will play a big part in their hopes for more union projects.

“Basin’s (Electric) looking at a coal burning facility at Mobridge (South Dakota), and they’re a leader in clean coal technology,” Rifen said.

Getting the first PLA in a region is always the hardest one. Their success rate breeds more of them, however, as developers, builders, and unions find projects coming in on time, under budget, and employing the area’s union workers.

Larry Sillanpa edits The Labor World, the official publication of the Duluth Central Body, AFL-CIO. Learn more at The Labor World website.

In Los Angeles, janitors in SEIU Local 1877 ended a weeks-long strike in April, winning a strong new contract.

As poor workers emigrate here to seek a better life, the communities they join often face rapid growth and change. Residents of small towns and even big cities, especially in California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida, now walk down their streets and see large numbers of new neighbors who speak different languages and have distinctive cultures.

Some native-born residents react with fear and suspicion to their new neighbors, especially as such changes happen quickly and can strain public services in communities unprepared for rapid population growth. And in some communities, the funding of such services as health care and schools already is inadequate to meet the needs of all residents, whose wages all too often are inadequate to support their families and strengthen their communities.

Yet, when immigrants settle in a community, their contributions are significant: Immigrants provide more to the nation's economy and government services than they use, adding about $10 billion each year to the U.S. economy and paying at least $133 billion in taxes, according to a 1998 study, A Fiscal Portrait of the Newest Americans, by the National Immigration Forum and the Cato Institute.

Communities become stronger and the balance between income and public services is restored when employers provide better-paying jobs, health care and safe working environments for all workers, says Kent Wong, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Labor Center. Those workers, in turn, are able to purchase more goods and pay more in taxes, generating more revenue and better enabling communities to afford increased public services.

And it is through unions that workers, including immigrants, gain better wages and are able to contribute even more to their communities, Turner says. "The middle class was not created by corporate interests, but by the union movement. Today, as 100 years ago, the union has the ability to lift up an immigrant worker and his children so they can benefit from the American Dream."

By PAUL KRUGMAN/Opinion/NY Times
Published: August 1, 2010

I’m starting to have a sick feeling about prospects for American workers — but not, or not entirely, for the reasons you might think.

Yes, growth is slowing, and the odds are that unemployment will rise, not fall, in the months ahead. That’s bad. But what’s worse is the growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care — that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal.

And I worry that those in power, rather than taking responsibility for job creation, will soon declare that high unemployment is “structural,” a permanent part of the economic landscape — and that by condemning large numbers of Americans to long-term joblessness, they’ll turn that excuse into dismal reality.

Not long ago, anyone predicting that one in six American workers would soon be unemployed or underemployed, and that the average unemployed worker would have been jobless for 35 weeks, would have been dismissed as outlandishly pessimistic — in part because if anything like that happened, policy makers would surely be pulling out all the stops on behalf of job creation.

But now it has happened, and what do we see?

First, we see Congress sitting on its hands, with Republicans and conservative Democrats refusing to spend anything to create jobs, and unwilling even to mitigate the suffering of the jobless.

We’re told that we can’t afford to help the unemployed — that we must get budget deficits down immediately or the “bond vigilantes” will send U.S. borrowing costs sky-high. Some of us have tried to point out that those bond vigilantes are, as far as anyone can tell, figments of the deficit hawks’ imagination — far from fleeing U.S. debt, investors have been buying it eagerly, driving interest rates to historic lows. But the fearmongers are unmoved: fighting deficits, they insist, must take priority over everything else — everything else, that is, except tax cuts for the rich, which must be extended, no matter how much red ink they create.

The point is that a large part of Congress — large enough to block any action on jobs — cares a lot about taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population, but very little about the plight of Americans who can’t find work.

Well, if Congress won’t act, what about the Federal Reserve? The Fed, after all, is supposed to pursue two goals: full employment and price stability, usually defined in practice as an inflation rate of about 2 percent. Since unemployment is very high and inflation well below target, you might expect the Fed to be taking aggressive action to boost the economy. But it isn’t.

It’s true that the Fed has already pushed one pedal to the metal: short-term interest rates, its usual policy tool, are near zero. Still, Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has assured us that he has other options, like holding more mortgage-backed securities and promising to keep short-term rates low. And a large body of research suggests that the Fed could boost the economy by committing to an inflation target higher than 2 percent.

But the Fed hasn’t done any of these things. Instead, some officials are defining success down.

For example, last week Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, argued that the Fed bears no responsibility for the economy’s weakness, which he attributed to business uncertainty about future regulations — a view that’s popular in conservative circles, but completely at odds with all the actual evidence. In effect, he responded to the Fed’s failure to achieve one of its two main goals by taking down the goalpost.

He then moved the other goalpost, defining the Fed’s aim not as roughly 2 percent inflation, but rather as that of “keeping inflation extremely low and stable.

In short, it’s all good. And I predict — having seen this movie before, in Japan — that if and when prices start falling, when below-target inflation becomes deflation, some Fed officials will explain that that’s O.K., too.

What lies down this path? Here’s what I consider all too likely: Two years from now unemployment will still be extremely high, quite possibly higher than it is now. But instead of taking responsibility for fixing the situation, politicians and Fed officials alike will declare that high unemployment is structural, beyond their control. And as I said, over time these excuses may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the long-term unemployed lose their skills and their connections with the work force, and become unemployable.

I’d like to imagine that public outrage will prevent this outcome. But while Americans are indeed angry, their anger is unfocused. And so I worry that our governing elite, which just isn’t all that into the unemployed, will allow the jobs slump to go on and on and on.

Years of effort came to fruition Tuesday with the dedication of the Minnesota Workers Memorial, a monument on the grounds of the state Capitol dedicated to those injured and killed on the job.

The memorial was the vision of Minnesota AFL-CIO President Emeritus Dave Roe, who worked tirelessly to wrangle support for a monument honoring the state’s workers. It consists of a long, stone wall on which is inscribed a poem by Langston Hughes. Other inscriptions will be added, Roe said.

“This memorial is on precious ground,” former Vice President Walter Mondale said in remarks at Tuesday’s dedication ceremony. “This isn’t just any ground. This is precious. That’s where it should be.”

The Capitol grounds include a number of memorials, including several to Minnesotans killed while serving in the military.

Some 250 people, including a number of union leaders and elected officials, attended the dedication ceremony. They said the monument will not only be a place of remembrance, but a place to recommit to the goal of workplace safety.

The memorial is “a place where people can come, reflect and visit a lost one,” said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council. “It will also be a memorial to what needs to happen in the workplace to improve safety.”

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson noted that “Last year, 21 Minnesota workers died on the job as a result of a workplace injury.” Countless more died of work-related illnesses and chronic injuries, she said.

“We should make sure we commit ourselves every day that Minnesota workers come home safe.”

Mondale urged everyone to “put pressure on those who are supposed to be administering these laws” to make workplaces safer.

Roe thanked many people for their support in making the memorial a reality. He singled out the late Russell Fridley, former director of the Minnesota Historical Society, for his unflagging commitment to the project.

Others praised Roe for his tireless effort. Bricklayer Mark Wickstrom, who carved the inscription in the memorial, presented Roe with a piece of the stone quarried for the monument.

“You’ve spoken for the people who couldn’t be here today – who have fallen in the workplace,” Wickstrom told Roe. “This is a thank you from them.”

These words from “Freedom’s Plow,” a poem by Langston Hughes, are inscribed on the memorial:

Free hands and slave hands,

Indentured hands, adventurous hands,

White hands and black hands,

Held the plow handles,

Axe handles, hammer handles,

Launched the boats and whipped the horses

That fed and housed and moved America.

Thus together through labor,

All these hands made America.


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