The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 22, 2017

Labor's first against the tax cut continues


By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI)--For unions, grad students and even some congressional Democrats, the fight against the GOP tax cut for the rich and big business continued even after the lawmakers' votes. And they have several more chances to derail the scheme. 

To further that effort, one tax bill foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., took to the road after the Senate’s 51-49 party-line vote at 2 am on Dec. 2. He toured the Midwest to agitate against it as a giveaway to the rich and to activate the legions who joined his 2016 Democratic presidential campaign. 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the tax cut bill “an attack on America’s workers. We will pay more. Corporations and billionaires will pay less. It’s a job killer. It gives billions of tax giveaways to big corporations that outsource jobs and profits.

“President Trump said he wanted to lower taxes for everyone as a Christmas gift to America, but this bill is simply a lump of coal to working families across the country. The only real gift is the major tax giveaways to Wall Street, big corporations and the super-rich, when what our country needs is investment in our schools and infrastructures that creates jobs.”

Other foes cited Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who forecast lawmakers would have to make up the bill’s $1.5 trillion budget-busting hole by raising the Social Security retirement age – thus cutting benefits – and cutting Medicare, too. But though his state houses huge numbers of elderly, Rubio voted for the tax cut bill, even though it eliminates the taxpayer deduction for medical expenses.

Led by the two teachers’ unions, who urged continuing resistance, union leaders denounced the measure. And 200 unionized graduate student research assistants and teaching assistants at the University of Minnesota hit the streets against the tax cut. 

That’s because, to help stanch the red ink, the GOP decided to tax not just their stipends – which are already low – but the presumed value of their education, now tuition-free in exchange for their labor. Since tuition is tens of thousands of dollars a year, the RAs and TAs would be looking at big tax bills, and no money to pay for them, or at dropping out.

And two workers, a disability rights advocate and a veteran started a sit-in at the Bangor, Maine, office of GOP Sen. Susan Collins at 4 pm on Dec. 4. They insisted Collins vote against the tax cut bill when it comes up again – and prepared for non-violent civil disobedience and potential arrest to make the point.

Though the GOP-run House and Senate both passed the tax cut for the rich and big business, they must now reconcile the two versions and then approve the agreed-upon text before it can go to Trump’s desk. With later votes this month if bargainers reach an agreement, foes of the tax bill had more chances to lobby against it.

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa pointed out yet another insult to workers in the tax cut bill: While it repeals the Affordable Care Act tax on people who don’t buy health insurance, it keeps the “Cadillac Tax” on people, especially union members, with high-cost high-value health plans. That 40 percent tax, which workers and their allies strongly opposed in the ACA, now will start in 2020. Labor wants its complete repeal.

The two teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, took up the cause. The lawmakers, especially the Senate, “threw the middle class under the bus,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Because the House and Senate passed different versions, we still have a chance to stop it before a final vote,” explained Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher. “There are already major divisions on things like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate, deductions on healthcare and mortgage interest, the educator expenses credit, the federal deficit, and how permanent these tax cuts would be."

AFSCME President Lee Saunders denounced both the House and Senate tax cut bills as “a raw deal’ for workers and families. And repealing the Affordable Care Act’s $700 levy, designed to get people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, “adds insult to injury…Any claim this tax plan is designed to help working people is an absolute farce.”