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Worker Rights

Congressman Kucinich stands up for workers. He has fought to protect good paying jobs in his district and around the country through aggressive advocacy.

Unemployment Insurance

Fight to Save Jobs at Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Cleveland, Ohio

490 jobs saved at Cleveland Pneumatic, Cleveland, Ohio

100 jobs saved at Viking Sewing, Westlake, Ohio

Opposing Contracting out Federal Services

Defeating Worker Disempowerment; Independent Contractor Language

Preservation of Civil Rights Protections Act of 2005

View press releases and related documents on workers rights

Unemployment Insurance

     History and Background

The federal-state unemployment insurance system helps people who have lost their jobs by temporarily replacing part of their wages. Created in 1935, the system is a form of social insurance, with contributions being paid into the system on behalf of working people so that they have income support if they lose their jobs. The system also helps sustain consumer demand during economic downturns, by providing a continuing stream of dollars for families to spend.

The basic unemployment insurance program is run by the states, although it is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor. States provide most of the funding, and pay for the actual benefits provided to workers; the federal government pays only for the administrative costs to the states of running the program. Although subject to a few federal requirements, states are generally able to set their own eligibility criteria and benefit levels.

The basic state-funded program typically provides up to 26 weeks of benefits to unemployed workers, and replaces on average 38 percent of their previous wages. There is also an extended benefits (EB) program, which is funded half by the federal government and half by state governments. This permanent program provides an additional 13 or 20 weeks of benefits to jobless workers in states where the unemployment situation has worsened dramatically, regardless of whether the national economy is in recession.

In addition to the benefits conferred on individual workers, economists believe that unemployment insurance has a stabilizing and stimulative effect on the economy during recessionary periods. This is because the benefits go to people who are very likely to spend them and might not be spending money if they did not have this source of income). This puts these dollars in circulation and helps to boost consumer demand, and in turn, production and job growth. In fact, the economic stimulus effects of unemployment insurance were a major part of the reason Congress created the program during the Great Depression.

Recent research has sought to quantify the positive effects that unemployment insurance benefits have on the economy. A 2003 study by Economy.com evaluated various stimulus options and found that unemployment insurance benefits were the single best mechanism under consideration for boosting the economy. Specifically, the study found that each dollar of federal benefits provides a $1.73 jolt to the economy. A 1999 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor found an even larger effect, with each dollar of unemployment insurance benefits generating $2.15 in gross domestic product.

The fact that the unemployment insurance system does not help all unemployed workers limits its effectiveness as economic stimulus, however. Many unemployed workers do not qualify for benefits at all, either because they never had a job in the first place, or because they do not meet the program’s eligibility criteria. Also, during difficult economic times, many workers who do qualify for unemployment insurance end up exhausting all their benefits before finding work. These workers are generally left without any dollars to spend to help gear up the economy.

     The TEUC Program

During and just after recessions, when jobs are scarce and many people are out of work for long periods of time, the federal government has historically provided funding for additional weeks of benefits in all states. The most recent federal program, called Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (TEUC), was enacted in March 2002, and provided 13 extra weeks to all workers, and 26 weeks in very high unemployment states. The TEUC program is currently scheduled to start phasing out at the end of 2003. A handful of states also have additional benefit programs of their own.

Congressman Kucinich believes the TEUC program must be extended into 2004. Each month, hundreds of thousands of new individuals still require jobless assistance from the TEUC program. Absent Congressional action, starting January 1 workers who exhaust their regular, state benefits will not be eligible for additional federal benefits. And yet, in 2003 an average of 370,000 workers exhausted their state benefits each month, and in the first half of 2004 alone, two million or more workers will be in a similar situation, unable to support their families without either a paycheck or an unemployment check.

There are almost 9 million unemployed Americans and 1.6 million more who are marginally attached to the labor force because there is a lack of good jobs available in America today. According to the Department of Labor, there are three unemployed workers for every job opening in our nation. As a result, the average unemployed worker has been jobless for almost 20 weeks, and 2 million workers have been looking for a job for over 27 weeks, the highest level of long-term unemployment in over 10 years.

Congressman Kucinich argues that if the federal unemployment compensation program is not extended into 2004, it will ironically occur at a time when labor market conditions are weaker than when the TEUC program was first enacted in March 2002. Indeed, the unemployment rate, the number of unemployed workers, and the number of long term unemployed have all risen since 2002, while the number of jobs available has fallen by almost 350,000. Even after accounting for recent job growth, there are still considerably fewer jobs – 2.4 million – than when the recession began in March 2001.

Congressman Kucinich believes that the precarious financial situation unemployed workers find themselves in means that any delay in receiving federal unemployment benefits, or any confusion in their own financial planning, will result in harm for millions of hard working Americans and their families. The large majority of unemployment insurance recipients do not have substantial enough savings to sustain their families through a lengthy bout of unemployment.

As a result, Congressman Kucinich has pledged to fight to ensure that this scenario does not occur. He is an original co-sponsor of HR 3244, introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel of New York. HR 3244 would reauthorize the TEUC program into the latter months of 2004. It would also increase the maximum amount of benefits to 26 weeks, expand the program to cover low wage and part time workers, and provide additional benefits to unemployed workers in 18 states that have dealt with especially extensive joblessness.

     Unemployment Insurance Reform

A key component of unemployment insurance reform supported by Congressman Kucinich involves a comprehensive alteration of the mechanism by which states can automatically receive federal unemployment assistance in times of economic hardship. For instance, although the number of long term unemployed (those without a job for 27 weeks or longer) in many states has reached levels not experienced in decades, in late 2003 only 4 states qualified for benefits beyond what is provided to every state through TEUC. This is because the “triggers”, or economic indicators that allow funds to flow to a state once they have been surpassed, are unreasonably high in the TEUC program. Worse, the triggers contained in the permanent extended benefit program (EB) are set so high that the EB program is almost never active in any state.

Congressman Kucinich believes both the EB and TEUC program should adopt a 4 percent trigger using the Adjusted Insured Unemployment Rate (AIUR). The AIUR takes into account both short and long-term unemployment in computing the overall unemployment rate for a state and is thus more sensitive to the needs of jobless workers. Currently, states only qualify for the EB program if their Insured Unemployment Rate (IUR), which does not take into account long term unemployment, averages at least 5 percent over a 13-week period and is at least 20 percent higher than the IUR over the same period in either of the past two years. This stringent standard, similar to the one used in TEUC, renders the benefit nearly useless.

Congressman Kucinich is also critical of work requirements that severely limit jobless workers’ access to benefits. For instance, State, EB, TEUC and other federal unemployment programs generally require that a potential beneficiary have worked for twenty consecutive weeks before he or she is eligible for unemployment insurance. Congressman Kucinich believes this is an arbitrary and unfair provision. Moreover, part-time workers are not currently eligible for unemployment insurance. As more and more businesses become reluctant to hire full time employees in order save money on employee benefits, workers are often forced to work multiple part-time jobs. Congressman Kucinich has therefore argued that allowing only formerly full-time employees access to unemployment insurance is unfairly punitive and harmful to American workers.

     Compensatory Time Off Instead of Overtime Pay

Congressman Kucinich strongly opposes any proposals to replace overtime pay with compensatory time off. He expressed this opposition in voting against HR 1119, a compensatory time bill offered in the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and in the full Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Congressman Kucinich’s objections to compensatory time proposals arise from the fact that such initiatives give flexibility to employers, not employees. For instance, in HR 1119, even where an employee earns comp time, the bill does not provide a right for the employee to be able to use it. The employer is free to deny the use of comp time on the basis that it would “unduly disrupt” the employer’s operation, even though the employee has already earned the extra time. This and other provisions are dangerously anti-worker.

     The Administration Assault on Overtime Pay

Congressman Kucinich has in the past and will continue in the future to oppose any legislative or regulatory efforts that might endanger the overtime pay of America’s workers. When the Administration submitted a proposal to the Department of Labor to cut the overtime pay of up to 8 million workers, Congressman Kucinich expressed his dismay on the floor of the House of Representatives and voted in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. George Miller of California that would have protected the wages of America’s working people by not allowing the overtime rule changes to take effect. Congressman Kucinich also voted in favor of a motion to instruct conferees to strike the proposed overtime changes in the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill.

     Workforce Investment Act

Congressman Kucinich is a strong advocate for programs to train and support dislocated and unemployed workers, such as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). A historic function of federal job training is to target dollars to areas and individuals of greatest need. The adult WIA program allocates funding to help communities with large numbers of economically disadvantaged workers.

When WIA was reauthorized in the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Congressman Kucinich raised concerns that the reauthorization bill, HR 1261, proposed consolidating the adult, dislocated worker, and Employment Service programs into a single block grant.

Congressman Kucinich believed the result of this action would be to eliminate discrete programs that provide vital services to groups with special needs, pitting welfare recipients against unemployed workers in competition for limited funds. He noted that the General Accounting Office has reported that funds from the federal government more directly target low income Americans than funds distributed from a state block grant.

Additionally, Congressman Kucinich was highly critical of an effort to reduce the authorized funding for the youth activities formula in WIA by 25 percent, eliminating the successful Youth Opportunity grant program targeted to high poverty communities to respond to youth development and youth workforce issues.

In response, Congressman Kucinich supported an alternative proposal that strengthened WIA in many areas, authorizing $3.6 billion over 2 years to both provide extended unemployment benefits to unemployed workers and to restore earlier budget cuts tocritical WIA programs.

Strengthening Workers’ Rights: Restoring Integrity to the Collective Bargaining Process

Congressman Kucinich believes that company management should not be rewarded for locking out their employees.  But when the dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) were locked out by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) in late September 2002, the Administration invoked a provision in the Taft-Hartley Act, which forced the union members back to work under their old contract. Congressman Kucinich believes this provision provides an incentive for management to bargain in bad faith, as a lock-out can start a chain of events which forces employees back to work, fundamentally undermining the integrity of the important collective bargaining process.

As a result, Congressman Kucinich introduced HR 5644, a bill to repeal anti-worker provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which allow the President to intervene in strikes and lock-outs. Although these parts of Taft-Hartley are intended to protect “the national health or safety” of the nation, in reality they severely weaken the right of labor to collectively bargain for higher wages, better benefits, and more security for their families.

Fight to Save Jobs at the Cargill Salt Mine, Cleveland, Ohio

Congressman Kucinich led an effort to save the jobs of union workers at the Cargill Inc. Whiskey Island salt mine. On May 6, 2002, 165 members of Teamsters Local Union No. 436 went on strike during contract negotiations. In early August, the workers made an unconditional offer to return to work. However, the workers were told that Cargill was laying off 56 union members, had hired 83 permanent replacement workers, and was allowing only 26 of the union workers back to their previous positions.

As a result, Congressman Kucinich committed to working with the union and the Greater Cleveland community to restore the workers to their rightful jobs. On September 24th, Congressman Kucinich sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Labor Dave Lauriski calling for an investigation into the worker safety practices at the Cargill Salt mine after research conducted by his office revealed that Cargill’s operator accident rate greatly exceeded the accident rates both for U.S. mines generally and in U.S. salt mines specifically. The unsatisfactory safety record was especially concerning in light of Cargill’s efforts to lock out their experienced union mine workers. Congressman Kucinich also wrote the President of Cargill asking that his company negotiate in good faith with Local 436, honor the union's seniority list, and allow union miners with seniority to be returned to work immediately.

Congressman Kucinich then convened a series of three Salt Miners Summits in which he invited Cargill’s union miners, their union leadership, and local legislators from the area to strategize as to how best to address the crisis and care for workers with immediate needs like health care and housing. With raised community awareness of the issue, the Board of County Commissioners of Cuyahoga County adopted a resolution urging Cargill to resolve the labor dispute with Teamsters Local 436, allowing the workers to return to their jobs.

Though charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Cargill had not violated labor law by refusing to reinstate striking employees after an unconditional offer to return to work and converting temporary employees to permanent status, Congressman Kucinich has pledged to continue to fight for the locked out Cargill workers and their families as the case is appealed.

On May 28, 2003, Congressman Kucinich hailed the ratification of a new labor contract between Cargill and Teamsters Local No. 436. The new contract came on the heels of two efforts by Cargill replacement workers to have the union decertified through NLRB elections. Both efforts failed as the workers elected to retain representation by the Teamsters, and Cargill was obligated to recognize the union.

Fight to Save Jobs at Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Cleveland, Ohio

Under guidelines set forth by the White House Office of Management and Budget, federal agencies may conduct cost comparison studies between the cost of contracting work to a commercial organization and the cost of in-house performance of this work. Recently, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) conducted such a study of its Retired and Annuitant Pay function, for the purposes of determining whether a contractor or an in- house team could do the work for less. This function is currently carried out by about 450 workers in Cleveland and 100 workers in Denver.

On June 15th, DFAS issued a decision: the work would be awarded to an outside contractor. Immediately, Congressman Kucinich, along with Rep. Steven LaTourette, issued a statement expressing concern for the welfare of DFAS employees and support for any employee attempt to challenge the decision.

Soon after, the union that represents the employees filed an appeal of the outsourcing decision. The appeal presented a host of evidence that DFAS had not followed federal guidelines and awarded the work to an outside group unfairly. Congressman Kucinich, joined by Reps. LaTourette, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and Sherrod Brown, signed a letter in support of this appeal.

Though the appeal was denied, the Congressman continues to fight for DFAS employees. On August 15th, Congressman Kucinich, again joined by the Cleveland-area representatives, sent a letter calling on Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) Director Thomas Bloom to reconsider the appeal of its outsourcing decision filed by DFAS employees and reverse its plans to contract out work. The representatives also sent letters to the head of the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, and the Defense Department Inspector General urging an investigation of DFAS’ actions. In these letters, the representatives issued a point-by-point critique of the way DFAS carried out its cost comparison study and considered the appeal of its decision.

Major Victory Against Privatization: DFAS takes away Contract from Lockheed Martin, Government toPerform Services

Following a relentless effort by Congressman Kucinich to challenge the Bushadministration’s efforts to privatize Defense Finance and Accounting Services(DFAS) jobs since 2001, DFAS announced on April 20, 2009 that that it willcancel agreements with Lockheed Martin and employ government workers to performall areas of retroactive pay and benefits for veterans.

The decision is a victory for veterans and a victory for governmentoversight and will finally end the six-year nightmare of privatization ofretired and annuitant pay services that resulted in the degradation of servicesto veterans and an increased cost to taxpayers. Congressman Kucinich thankedDirector McKay and Comptroller Robert Hale for their choice to serve veteransfirst, rather than perpetuate a lucrative contract with the nation’s largestmilitary contractor.

Lockheed’s performance of the retired and annuitant pay functions of DFASwas characterized by mishandling, delay, poor quality and exorbitant charges.An investigation by Chairman Kucinich’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee publishedin July 2008 revealed that 8,763 disabled veterans died before their cases wereeven reviewed for eligibility in a program that allowed retired veterans withsevere combat-related disabilities to receive concurrent disability andretirement pay.  Almost 30,000 veterans were denied the benefit basedsolely on the determination of Lockheed employees with about six weeks oftraining.

At a Subcommittee hearing, then-director Zack Gaddy promised ChairmanKucinich a thorough audit of the VA Retro program, and correction of theunderlying problems. DFAS’ announcement today stems from that assurance.

Lockheed is the world’s largest military contractor, with almost all of itsrevenue coming from the U.S.government. Aside from payroll and other services, Lockheed also manufacturesthe F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning and the THAAD missile defense system.


490 jobs saved at Cleveland Pneumatic, Cleveland, Ohio

In 1999, Congressman Kucinich helped protect over 490 jobs at the Cleveland Pneumatic Plant on Marble Avenue. The plant was in immediate danger of being closed, as a consequence of a merger between its owner, BFGoodrich, and another maker of airplane landing gear, Coltec Industries. In fact, several internal documents that were leaked revealed that BFGoodrich intended to close the Cleveland plant after the merger. Furthermore, those documents indicated that the newly merged company would be "union free." When asked for public comment, however, BFGoodrich maintained that no decisions had been made on which plants would be closed.

Congressman Kucinich subsequently investigated possible antitrust violations of the merger and questioned BFGoodrich about its intentions to eliminate the union. He lobbied the Federal Trade Commission to withhold its approval of the merger. When that failed, Congressman Kucinich held bipartisan hearings of the Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, of which he is the ranking Democrat, in Indiana and Cleveland. The hearings, held in June and July 1999, drew top officials of BFGoodrich as well as Allied Signal, a competitor in the landing gear business. The hearings also drew local officials of the United Auto Workers, the union that represents workers at the Cleveland plant, as well as local elected officials. At the hearings, Congressman Kucinich pressed BFGoodrich officials to explain their projected cost savings and other details on the effects of the merger. Congressman Kucinich also wrote to the Ohio judge evaluating the merger for anti-trust violations, testified at Senate hearings regarding the antitrust implications of the merger, and drafted an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill.

In July, 1999, BFGoodrich announced a multiyear contract with the union at the Cleveland plant. In December, 1999, BFGoodrich announced its corporate restructuring plans and repeated its intention to keep the Cleveland plant open.

100 jobs saved at Viking Sewing, Westlake, Ohio

Congressman Kucinich helped save over 100 Cleveland jobs at Viking Sewing Machine. Viking is a Westlake, Ohio distributor of the Swedish-made sewing machine. Viking had been included in a preliminary list of European products that would be subject to a prohibitive (100 percent) tariff in retaliation for EU restrictions on the import of bananas grown by an American-based multinational corporation.

Congressman Kucinich persuaded the U.S. Trade Representative to remove European household sewing machines, such as those made by Viking, from the list of targeted products. Congressman Kucinich wrote a December 2, 1998 letter to the USTR, arguing that U.S. sanctions should have a minimal effect on American workers. The selection of Viking clearly violated the principle. In the third week of December, USTR notified Congressman Kucinich that his appeal for the Viking workers was successful.

Viking Sewing Machine's Chief Executive Officer, Bengt Gerborg, said this after hearing the news that his company would stay open: "This is certainly the best holiday news we could have hoped for. We appreciate the work Congressman Kucinich did on behalf of Viking and its employees, dealers and customers."

Contracting out Federal Services

Because it tends to reduce accountability to the taxpayer, substitute a less experienced set of workers for seasoned, capable government employees, and deflate wages, Congressman Kucinich has opposed contracting out federal services to private vendors. In 1998, he fought against passage of the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act. Though the bill was enacted, he has remained skeptical of the law. In October 1999, the Congressman raised Congress' awareness of the issue when he testified before the Subcommittee on Government Management and Information Technology.

In this 107th Congress, Congressman Kucinich has again raised concerns about federal outsourcing before the Government Reform Committee. Participating in a hearing on federal outsourcing conducted by the Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement, Congressman Kucinich called for a study of the wages and benefits paid by government vendors who receive federal contracts. Citing a report that 1 in 10 federal workers earn less than a living wage, Congressman Kucinich posed the following question to the witnesses, among whom were administration officials: “Do you think that the federal government should be in the business of saving money on the backs of workers?”

Congressman Kucinich has also fought efforts to contract out federal work carried out in Cleveland (see section on the Defense Finance Accounting Service above).

Defeating Worker Disempowerment; Independent Contractor Language

The original 1998 Budget Bill passed by the House of Representatives contained a provision that would have made it very easy for employers to classify workers as "independent contractors." This would have undermined pensions and job protections for millions of workers. In cooperation with unions and women's organizations, Congressman Kucinich waged a campaign inside Congress to have this section removed from the final bill. He spoke against the provision several times in front of the full House, and circulated a letter (with 79 signatures) to the President asking him to demand the elimination of this section. They succeeded. This section was dropped from the final budget bill that the President signed in August 1997.

Preservation of Civil Rights Protections Act of 2005

Congressman Kucinich reintroduced HR 2969, the "Preservation of Civil Rights Protections Act of 2005" with senior Democrats on the Judiciary and Education and Workforce Committees. This important bill would reverse a significant assault on the rights of employees. The bill reverses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Circuit City v Saint Clair Adams. That decision allows employers to require potential workers to waive their right to legally enforce their civil rights and accept mandatory, binding arbitration instead as a condition of employment.

Workers should not be required to waive their legal rights as a condition of employment. In addition, the legislative history of the Federal Arbitration Act does not support the Court majority's interpretation. Furthermore, arbitration is a valid form of dispute resolution only if it is voluntary. When employers can require that employees accept arbitration in order to get a job, employees are denied a voluntary choice.

These opinions are based on decades of labor law. The Norris-LaGuardia Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act explicitly state that the employer- employee relationship is not balanced, to the employer's advantage. Furthermore, mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment is inherently unfair. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Policy Statement on Mandatory Binding Arbitration of Employment Discrimination Disputes as a Condition of Employment (1997), "[mandatory arbitration] agreements are imposed by employers because they believe them to be in their interests, and they are made possible by the employer's superior bargaining power." EEOC goes on to say, "agreements that mandate binding arbitration of discrimination claims as a condition of employment are contrary to the fundamental principles evinced" in the "nation's employment discrimination laws."

HR 2969 is also consistent with the history of the federal arbitration act. When the FAA was drafted in the mid-1920s, its purpose was to create a forum for the resolution of disputes between commercial businesses. The seamen's union worried that mandatory arbitration could be used to compel seamen to serve out the term of their contracts, resulting in involuntary servitude. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover himself drafted the clarifying language to exclude the worker- employer relationship. The bill passed with support from both unions and business. Seventy-six years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ignored this history. They interpreted Hoover's exemption of workers from mandatory arbitration to mean only those workers involved in transportation. Everybody else is now subject to mandatory, binding arbitration.

HR 2969 amends the FAA by deleting everything after "employment" in 9 U.S.C. Section 1. The new exception would read, "but nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment."

In addition, HR 2969 would make arbitration agreements between employers and employees unenforceable when they are conditions of employment. Arbitration agreements between employers and employees must be voluntary, meaning that they are made only after a dispute has begun. This preserves the right of employees to seek legal redress for violations of Federal statutory and Constitutional claims. The bill would apply to all pending disputes as well as future disputes.


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