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Working In These Times

Saturday, Feb 16, 2013, 3:40 pm

Ft. Hood Hero Sues Army for Benefits; Trumka Calls Out White House; NYC Stadium Creates Bad Jobs

BY Mike Elk

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Defense Sec. Robert Gates visited Sgt. Munley in the hospital after she and her partner helped stop the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Now, she's suing the military over denied medical benefits. (U.S. Army / Flickr / Creative Commons).  

The police officer who helped halt the Fort Hood shootings in 2009 told ABC News this week that she feels "betrayed" by President Obama, who celebrated her at the 2010 State of the Union. Former Sgt. Kimberly Munley and other responders are suing the military for classifying the shooting--in which Munley sustained three bullet wounds--as "workplace violence" rather than "combat," reducing their eligibility for medical coverage. From ABC News:

Three years after the White House arranged a hero's welcome at the State of the Union address for the Fort Hood police sergeant and her partner who stopped the deadly shooting there, Kimberly Munley says President Obama broke the promise he made to her that the victims would be well taken care of. …

Munley and dozens of other victims have now filed a lawsuit against the military alleging the "workplace violence" designation means the Fort Hood victims are receiving lower priority access to medical care as veterans, and a loss of financial benefits available to those who injuries are classified as "combat related."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also called out the White House this week--for delaying workplace safety rules to regulate silica dust. From an op-ed published by Trumka in the Huffington Post:

Every year, silica dust takes hundreds of American lives and makes thousands more, mostly construction workers, sick. But it doesn't have to be that way. Two years ago tomorrow, Feb. 14, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted a draft proposed rule to reduce exposure to life-threatening silica dust to the White House's Office of Management and Budget. The review was supposed to take 90 days--but two years later, the draft rule is still there, languishing in regulatory limbo while workers continue to be exposed to the deadly dust.

For decades, working people and their unions have fought to make jobs safer. And we've made great progress, winning job safety standards that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But at every step toward progress, we faced the same obstacles that are blocking stronger silica dust limits: well-funded knee-jerk opposition by business trade groups and industry associations.

Even when we get laws and regulations on the books, unscrupulous employers cut corners and violate them. Workers who report job hazards or injuries are fired or disciplined. Employers contract out dangerous work to avoid responsibility. As a result, every single day of every year, 13 workers are killed on the job. And every year workers suffer 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses.

I've seen how hard it is to take on the heavyweight corporate lobbyists who hold so much sway in Washington. But I've also seen what a worker's struggle for breath looks like. You see, I come from a three-generation coal-mining family in a coal-mining town. We know what work can do to a person's lungs.

Last month, I interviewed sportswriter Dave Zirin for In These Times about how local communities often don’t see economic benefits from publicly funded stadiums, which are often billed as job- and revenue-generating. Now a new report by DNAInfo finds that the vast majority of workers at the heavily publicly subsidized Barclay Center in Brooklyn don’t receive healthcare. From Gothamist:

At his final State of the City address yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg patted himself on the back for the heavily-subsidized Barclays Center, which was built despite intense opposition from some local residents. The arena, Bloomberg declared, created 2,000 permanent jobs, with 75% of them filled by Brooklyn residents. But what Bloomberg didn't mention is that few of those employees receive benefits.

According to an eye-opening and rather infuriating report from Leslie Albrecht at DNAinfo, out of those 2,000 jobs, only 100 are full-time positions. The 1,900 other ones are part-time jobs, and those employees get no benefits. But at least they belong to the SEIU 32BJ union? "There are no health benefits because they're part-time employees," Forest City Ratner spokesperson Ashley Cotton confirmed at a recent public meeting. "However, we feel, and hopefully they do too, that there's a benefit to being part of a union."

However, Gib Veconi of the neighborhood advocacy group Brooklyn Speaks, argues that the lack of benefits and full time employment is highly disappointing, given the fact that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars went to subsidize the Atlantic Yards project. NYC's Independent Budget Office estimates the arena received about $750 million in direct and indirect taxpayer-funded subsidies. Veconi tells DNAinfo, "If you divide that by 2,000 jobs, that's $375,000 a job. When you look at it in that light, does that seem like it measures up to what the public put into the project? No."

In other sports news, this week the UAW protested the billionaire owner of Jacksonville Jaguars for blocking unionization at his auto parts plants. From the Dallas Star-Telegram:

A few miles from Cowboys Stadium, the United Auto Workers are trying to mount a serious offense against Shahid "Shad" Khan, the self-made, Pakistani-born billionaire industrialist who bought the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars last year.

In Arlington and in five other states, the UAW organized demonstrations on Wednesday to show support at Khan's auto part plants, where they claim workers are seeking to form a union.

About 40 percent of workers at his Flex-N-Gate Corp. are unionized -- but only at plants where there already had been representation when he acquired them, said Cindy Estrada, a UAW vice president in Detroit. In Brazil, Spain, Canada and most recently in Puebla, Mexico, Flex-N-Gate workers have unions, the UAW said.

More than 60 union members from area General Motors, Bell Helicopter, Chrysler and Triumph Aerostructures facilities walked the perimeter of Khan's Flex-N-Gate assembly unit in Arlington, whose roughly 80 employees bundle parts for the nearby GM plant. In September 2010 the UAW lost a union-representation election, but the National Labor Relations Board found the company employed unfair tactics and illegally fired three pro-union workers.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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