Candidates must back middle class

Posted Aug. 15, 2010, at 5:34 p.m.

As we look forward to the coming elections, it is important to look for candidates who want to rebuild our struggling economy by putting people back to work in well-paying jobs. These jobs need to be manufacturing jobs that revitalize the middle class. Middle-class workers have been America’s backbone for decades. We pay the bills, buy the products we produce and pay our share of taxes.

Labor supports a plan that will rebuild this country and put people back to work. First we need to rewrite trade agreements such as NAFTA that have cost Maine more than 30,000 jobs and America millions more. We need to make sure these agreements put us on a level playing field with the countries we trade with.

Rep. Mike Michaud submitted a bill called The TRADE Act to do just that. He understands the pain of mills shutting down and leaving communities devastated because companies can go to places without environmental, labor and human rights laws and do things cheaper. This bill also provides provisions for food and product safety. Trade reform such as The TRADE Act will keep jobs in Maine and help create more.

Next is a strong clean energy bill. Rep. Michaud helped pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act in Congress last fall. We strongly believe that properly crafted, comprehensive clean energy legislation will achieve the critical goals of creating good jobs, reducing carbon emissions and increasing our nation’s energy in-dependence.

We can put Americans back to work manufacturing the parts for clean energy technology, weatherizing our homes and retrofitting our buildings, building and operating transit and freight rail, and maintaining energy-efficient buildings across the country, all while ensuring that these jobs are quality and well-paying. We can protect our paper mills by allowing for a slow transition to clean energy production so mills can comply without jeopardizing their operation.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act also has language to protect trade-sensitive manufacturing industries such as paper. It places a penalty on imports from countries without the equivalent environmental laws. If Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins follow Rep. Michaud’s lead and work hard to pass clean energy legislation in the Senate, we will create 10,000 well-paying clean energy jobs in Maine and hundreds of thousands more all across this country of ours. Maine workers can’t afford to wait; we need to pass clean energy legislation now.

The third part of our plan to rebuild America is to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. This law would impose real penalties on employers who harass or fire union supporters, or otherwise try to scare workers away from a union.

Restoring the right to form or join a union would go a long way toward returning balance to workplaces, where bargaining power has been heavily weighted toward employers in recent years. It would also start to reduce the wage disparity between top corporate officers and the rest of us. According to the U.S. Census, in 2008 America’s median household income was $52,029. On the other hand, the average salary of America’s Fortune 500 CEOs was a whopping $11.2 million. We need a level playing field, something the American worker does not have whether they are union or not.

As we head to the polls this November, I urge everyone to take a hard look at the candidates running for office and cast your vote for those who are working to get Americans back to work by reforming our trade agreements, creating a clean energy economy, and leveling the playing field for workers everywhere. In the 2nd Dis-trict, that candidate is Mike Michaud.

Emery Deabay is a member of United Steelworkers Local 1188 at the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport.

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