Union Update

Air Line Pilot, August 2004, p.36

Taxpayer Dollars Subsidize Outsourcing Homeland Security Uniforms

The nation’s border patrol agents, whose duties involve protecting U.S. borders from terrorists, are outraged that their uniforms are being outsourced to Mexico, where they could possibly be manufactured in sweatshop conditions.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, ordered $30 million in uniforms from VF Solutions in Nashville, Tenn. The Homeland Security contract allows the company to contract out its work to other facilities in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and the Dominican Republic.

Manufacturing uniforms outside the United States is an "outrageous practice and means that the American government—with taxpayer’s money—may be supporting sweatshops," says Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Workers).

The Bush administration claims it is saving money by outsourcing the manufacture of the uniforms, but only the company is benefiting from the savings, says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents federal government employees. "The notion that the federal government is subsidizing companies to take jobs from Americans is bad business for the border agents and the American public." Bonner says while uniform costs have risen, border guards’ uniform allowance has not.

"This is further evidence that the government should require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uniforms to be made in the United States, as the Berry Amendment already mandates for clothing purchased by the Defense Department," says Raynor.

The Berry Amendment, enacted in 1941, requires that the U.S. Department of Defense purchase clothing, tents, tarpaulins or covers, cotton, and other natural-fiber products made wholly in the United States.

"By bringing Homeland Security under Berry, our government can ensure a safe and reliable supply of uniforms for DHS employees, while supporting domestic jobs and avoiding offshore outsourcing to countries with bad labor standards," Raynor says.

The border guards’ previous uniforms were made by Fechheimer Brothers Co., a Cincinnati-based unionized company.

"Ask A Working Woman" Survey Spotlights Women’s Top Concerns

Finding and keeping a good job with basic benefits in today’s economy is the leading concern of working women, both personally and as public policy, according to a new nationwide survey of women that the AFL-CIO commissioned.

Nearly half—48 percent—of working women say that they have been out of work in the past year or have a family member or close friend who has been out of work. And having a job does not ensure having basic benefits, the survey finds. One-quarter to one-third of employed women lack basic benefits, including affordable health insurance, prescription drug coverage, pension or retirement benefits, equal pay, and paid sick leave. Rising health costs are the biggest worry for working women, leading to a dramatic increase since 2000 in support for laws to make health care more affordable.

The "Ask A Working Woman" survey, the fourth in a series, was conducted for the AFL-CIO by Lake Snell Perry & Associates. The report findings reflect high economic insecurity due to steady job loss. Even though recent months have seen a slight uptick, the United States has lost 2.2 million private-sector jobs since January 2001, with the heaviest losses in the manufacturing sector.

Overwhelming numbers of working women of all races—90 percent—say they know how tough it is to find a job that pays well and provides benefits in today’s job market, the survey finds.

"This survey dramatically demonstrates that the jobs crisis deeply affects America’s working families," said AFL-CIO Executive Vice-President Linda Chavez-Thompson. "New jobs being created offer 20 percent lower wages, on average, than those that have been lost, and many don’t offer basic benefits. Women from all backgrounds and from across the United States fear for their future, because they find it harder and harder to find good jobs."

Women of color have the greatest personal experience with job loss—61 percent of African American women, 56 percent of Latinas, and 52 percent of Asian Pacific American women have or know someone who has been out of work in the past year.

A surprisingly large share of working women say they lack key benefits that are important to them:

• 95 percent say secure, affordable health care is an important job benefit, but 31 percent say they lack it;

• 93 percent say prescription drug coverage is an important benefit, but 36 percent do not have it; and

• 93 percent also say equal pay and paid sick leave are important, but 25 percent say they do not have equal pay and 31 percent do not have paid sick leave for themselves.

Support for laws to make health care more affordable has risen sharply over the last 4 years—81 percent of working women say such laws are personally very important today, compared to 69 percent in 2002 and just 57 percent in 2000. Laws to make health care more affordable, to strengthen Social Security, and to strengthen pensions are women’s top legislative priorities.

The survey also found that more than nine in ten working women support stronger laws to constrain corporate America. Working women want to see guaranteed overtime pay, limits on CEO compensation, stronger equal pay laws, stronger affirmative action laws, and stronger laws to challenge discrimination. Women of all ages and races support these laws.

Strong support for legislative solutions to job problems may reflect the primary role women now play in household finances and the changing nature of jobs.

The survey confirms that many women work irregular hours, and most contribute half or more of their families’ incomes, increasing the pressure they feel concerning good jobs. Four in ten working women work evenings, nights, or weekends on a regular basis, and one-third work shifts different from those of their spouses or partners. Women of color are more likely to work evenings, nights, or weekends and are more likely to work shifts different than their spouses or partners. Three in ten working women make all or almost all of their families’ incomes. Three in five earn about half or more of their families’ incomes.

The AFL-CIO is the nation’s largest organization of working women with more than 5 million women members.

The 2004 Ask A Working Woman survey report is based on a new national telephone survey of 1,450 working women over the age of 18 nationwide. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.