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The Trans Pacific Partnership will cost our nation nearly half a million jobs. That's the conclusion of a new report from economists at Tufts University's Global Development and Environment Institute. And, according to that report, our jobs being shipped over seas isn't the only reason we should be concerned about the TPP. Researchers said that claims about how the TPP will boost economic activity in the US are “based on unrealistic assumptions.” They also predicted that the TPP – aka SHAFTA – will lower our GDP more than half a point over the next decade, and decrease labor's share of income by 1.3 percent, which would worsen income inequality in the United States. In other words, shipping our jobs to low-wage nations will take money out of the pockets of American workers just to pad the bank accounts of corporate executives. Even the projections about how this deal will help developing nations appear to be wildly overstated. In this report, researchers estimated that a few of the nations involved in the TPP would gain a “negligible” boost from one to three percent of GDP. However, they said, “Businesses in participating countries would strive to become more competitive by cutting labor costs, thereby seeking higher short-term profits while undermining efficiency and productivity in the long-term.” In other words, businesses in those nations would follow in the footsteps of US corporations by shipping jobs to even-lower-cost countries and screwing their workers at home. And, these concerning statistics only add to worries about workers' rights, environmental regulations, and national sovereignty. No matter which way you look at it, the TPP is a bad deal for workers and the projected benefits simply don't add up. We must continue to pressure Congress to keep SHAFTA from becoming reality so that we can keep American jobs, regulations, and sovereignty here at home.

Since Michigan Governor Rick Snyder continues to fail the people of Flint, union plumbers have been stepping up to help those impacted by lead-tainted water. At the very end of last month, 300 plumbers and pipe fitters came from all over the country to install new faucets and water filters in Flint free of charge. In addition to the lead contamination, many residents were dealing with water faucets so old that they couldn't accommodate the water filters provided by the state. So, Plumbing Manufacturers International donated new fixtures, and members of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices showed up for free to do the job. Although the water filters aren't enough to help homes with extremely high lead levels, they will work for most impacted by the contamination. The people of Flint have been dealing with this disaster for more than a year, but national media attention is finally bringing in some much-needed help. We should all take a cue from these generous union plumbers and help Flint stand up to Rick Snyder and his team of little dictators.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a warning for the American worker. She says arbitration clauses are as bad as the infamous Lochner ruling was workers and consumers. That's the 1905 Supreme Court ruling that allowed businesses to exploit workers under the guise of a so-called “right to contract.” That ruling was overturned in 1937, but arbitration clauses have taken up where Lochner left off. Every day, millions of consumers and prospective employees are forced to agree to arbitration clauses in order to purchase a product or to get hired for a new job. Those agreements typically dictate how and where someone can legally challenge a corporation, and limit the amount that is typically awarded in any particular case. Arbitration agreements are only used by corporations to bully customers and workers into giving up on legal disputes, and to trick people into signing away their legal rights. It's going to take a heck of a lot of work to unwind these dangerous agreements from our legal system, so it's great that the Notorious R-B-G is shedding light on arbitration clauses.

North Carolina's voting laws “intentionally” discriminate against people of color. That's the argument from attorneys who are working to overturn that state's restrictive voting laws. And, that's why groups like the North Carolina NAACP sounded the alarm during a recent trial over the state's discriminatory voting restrictions. After the Supreme Court stuck a vital blow to the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina reduced the number of early voting days, implemented a strict ID requirement, ended pre-registration, and prohibited same-day voter registration. Reverend William Barber, the president of that state's NAACP said that this law, “forces the communities who have faced the greatest barriers – who have shed blood and tears to access the ballot – to overcome hurdles once again to exercise their most fundamental right to vote.” There is only about a month to go before North Carolina's primary election and no one should be blocked from rightfully participating in our democracy. Republicans have actively worked to keep people from the voting booth, and it's up to all of us to make sure that they don't succeed.

And finally… West Virginia lawmakers could be getting a taste of their own medicine. Well, they may be drug tested for that medicine if one state House Delegate has his way. Last week, in response to a new bill proposing to drug test welfare recipients, state House Delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced his own bill proposing to drug test legislators. His bill would require that West Virginia lawmakers take a drug test before each voting session and if they failed, they would be barred from voting or receiving their pay. He said, “I think the public expects us to adhere to the rules that we try to legislate.” And he added, “There's no reason why state legislators should get a pass, simply because we wear suits.” If lawmakers think that there's nothing wrong with subjecting people to drug tests, this is their opportunity prove that they don't consider themselves above the law. No one should be treated like a criminal simply for being poor, and “You first” is a perfect response to lawmakers who think otherwise.

And that's the way it is - for the week of February 8, 2016 – I'm Thom Hartman – on the Economic and Labor News.

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