The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would place some limits on how employers handle 401(k) plans for workers. The bill passed by a 255-163 margin, after Democrats gave up attempts to improve the bill with amendments. The bill was promoted as a "pension reform" bill in the wake of the unraveling Enron fiasco. In reality - something in short supply in our big business-dominated Congress - it was merely a mis-named bill to provide some minimal protections and rights to holders of 401(k) accounts.
UE Political Action Updates
Corporate America celebrated two anti-labor decisions issued last week, one by our illustrious "Supreme" Court and the other by the Bush Administration. On Wednesday, April 3rd, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrant workers fired by their boss for trying to organize a union were not entitled to back pay. The 5-4 decision involved the cases of several workers at the Hoffman Plastic company in California who were fired from their jobs in 1989 after trying to form a union.
Anti-labor Republicans in the House of Representatives have renewed the push to repeal overtime pay and paid time-off. The so-called "comp-time" bill (HR1982) is the same bill that was passed by the House of Representatives in 1995 and 1997, but died - thankfully - due to lack of any action by the Senate.
Without Congressional action over the next several months, our national rail passenger system - Amtrak - is in danger of being liquidated. Strained Amtrak finances are reeling under the weight of additional terrorism-related expenses, and without an infusion of cash by the U.S. Congress most long-distance inter-city train service could end by October 1st. In recent years the federal government has provided Amtrak with annual subsidies of $521 million dollars.
In what is probably the first positive outcome of the Enron scandal, the U.S. Senate has passed a final version of the "campaign finance"; bill. The Senate passed the landmark bill on Wednesday by a 60-40 margin. The same version of the bill passed the House of Representatives by a 240-189 margin last month. Recognizing the popularity of the bill, President Bush has indicated his willingness to sign the bill into law.
A paltry one-count indictment was handed down yesterday by federal prosecutors against the Arthur Andersen auditing firm. The Andersen firm was charged with one count of felony "obstruction of justice."; Andersen staff participated in both document shredding and computer hard drive "sanitizing"; in the wake of the gigantic Enron swindle. The indictment is the first, and so far only indictment in the Enron case.
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have passed a bill to extend unemployment compensation. The extension is for "up to"; thirteen additional weeks of benefits, with limited provisions for additional extensions in states with the highest unemployment rates. President Bush signed the bill into law on Saturday, March 9, ending months of wrangling over this basic worker-fairness issue.
A just-released report has exposed the activities of the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC), a corporate front-group with major operations in every U.S. state capitol. Produced by the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the report is entitled; "Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council."
The Bush Administration decision to slap 30% tariffs on certain imported steel products this week was welcomed by America’s battered steelworkers. The news comes not a moment too soon; the steel industry has been so utterly undermined by the dumping of low-wage imported steel that a total of 31 major steel companies are in bankruptcy, with more than one hundred thousand steelworkers on the unemployment line. The Bush decision is the first relief - however small and temporary - for manufacturing workers in many years.
The recent collapse of LTV Steel and Enron, among others, have placed incredible strains on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency that insures defined-benefit pensions for U.S. workers. The LTV pension shortfall is the largest in PBGC history, more than $1 billion dollars. The Enron tab is estimated at more than $125 million dollars. The PBGC takes control of pension plans when companies declare bankruptcy, are grossly underfunded, or where mismanagement threatens the solvency of the plan.