Officials Attempt to Delay Minimum Wage Increase in New Mexico’s Largest County—And Fail

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In 2013, Working New Mexico members fought for a minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County—and won. Bernalillo is the most populous county in the state and includes the city of Albuquerque.

The increase included a cost of living adjustment, but on January 1, 2015 workers were disappointed that the cost of living adjustment had not been implemented. When a reporter spoke with Commissioner Wayne Johnson about the cost of living adjustment not being enforced, he stated it was an oversight by the commission and they were trying to resolve the issue but a resolution might come as late as 2016.

The minimum wage workers would be losing $0.15 per hour. For a full-time worker, that would equal $312 a year, or a week’s worth of pay.  When Commissioner Johnson stated that it was an oversight on part of the Board of Commissioners, Working America members were upset because this meant that they would not have $312 extra this year to help support themselves and their families.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson also said about the delayed increase that the “damage was minimal if any.” This remark was out of step with the realities faced by minimum wage workers in this country.

On January 13, ten of our members attended the County Commissioners meeting and two of our members testified against the delay. They confronted Commissioner Wayne Johnson about his comments.  One of our members explained how this increase would affect him as a minimum wage student worker. Jaen Ugalde said, “$312 could help us pay for a month of rent, or for a portion of our books.” Lorenzo Pino urged the commissioners to vote on the measure that night to bring relief to Bernalillo County’s low-income families.

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Thanks to our members’ presence and heartfelt testimony, the commissioners took action that night, voting 3 to 2 in favor of a minimum wage cost of living adjustment. It will take effect on January 26, 2015. Commissioners Maggie Stebbins, Debbie O’Malley and Art De La Cruz voted in favor. Unfortunately Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert were the two votes against resolving the delayed cost of living adjustment.

By standing together as Working New Mexico, our members shed light on the plight of low wage workers and their families – and won. Without our members’ work, Bernalillo County officials could have easily gotten away with delaying a much needed cost-of-living adjustment. Working New Mexico, a project of Working America, is committed to standing up for our communities and putting the issues of everyday working people front and center—and when possible, forcing our leaders to take immediate action.

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Union-Made Super Bowl Party Shopping List

On Super Bowl Sunday next week, some of our larger and faster union brothers—members of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA)—will be battling it out in Glendale, Ariz., at Super Bowl XLIX (49 for those of us who are shaky on Roman numerals).  While the Super Bowl carries a union label, from players to broadcast crews to stadium workers—your Super Bowl party spread can, too, with union-made in America food and drinks.

Check out these union-made Super Bowl party products, compiled by our friends at Labor 411, the union business directory from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Food and drinks are brought to you by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), the UAW, Machinists (IAM), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters (IBT). 

Beer
Beck’s, Budweiser, Busch. Goose Island, Hoegaarden, Land Shark Lager, Leffe Blond, Michelob, Natural, O’Doul’s (non alcoholic), Shock Top, Stella Artois, Iron City, Rolling Rock, Red Stripe, Kirin, Labatt Blue, Stegmaier, Lionshead, Steelhead, Butte Creek, Red Tail Ale, Blue Moon, Henry Weinhard’s, Killian’s, Mickey’s, Molson Canadian, Olde English 800,
Steel Reserve, Miller, Keystone Light, 1845 Pils, Bass Pale Ale, Moosehead, Schlitz, Pabst,
Sam Adams, Hamm’s and Kingfisher Premium Lager.

Meat
Alexander & Hornung, Always Tender, Ball Park, Banquet, Butterball, Dearborn Sausage Co., Farmer John, Farmland, Hebrew National, Hormel, Omaha Steaks, Oscar Meyer, Thumann’s and Tyson.

Snack Food
Act II Popcorn, Bagel Bites, Lay’s, Cheetos, Cheez-It, Chex Mix, Chips Ahoy, Doritos, Fig Newtons, Fritos, Rice Krispies Treats, Rold Gold Pretzels, Ruffle, Triscuit and Wheat Thins.

Chips and Salsa
Mission Chips, Old El Paso Chips, Dips and Salsa, Pace Salsa, Stacy’s Pita Chips, Sun Chips
Tostitos Chips and Salsa.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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23 Things Poor People Have to Worry About That Wealthier People Never Even Have to Think About

A recent Reddit thread discussed experiences people had while experiencing poverty, with a particular focus on those things that people are forced to buy or do that people who aren’t poor never have to think about, much less worry about. In thousands of comments, people recounted hundreds upon hundreds of stories of trying to find ways to maintain a minimal lifestyle in the face of extreme poverty.  One of the things that labor unions were created to do, and a key focus of the AFL-CIO’s Raising Wages campaign, was to prevent workers from having to suffer through these hardships and in states where union density is higher, wages for both union and nonunion workers are higher, meaning fewer people have to live through such experiences.

Here are 23 examples of things that people in the discussion described having to worry about that wealthier Americans never even have to think about. These are some of the key things that working families and labor unions are fighting to reduce.

1. Staying in an extended stay housing, a motel, or a hotel (and paying the higher rate) because you can’t qualify to get an apartment because you don’t have proof of income.

2. Digging through the trash to find uneaten food.

3. Scavenging the ground for change to buy a meal.

4. Searching everywhere for coupons to make necessities affordable.

5. Stealing products like toilet paper from public restrooms so you can actually have them at home.

6. Selling plasma in order to afford groceries or pay rent.

7. Buying clothes on layaway.

8. Driving on tires so bald they could cause an accident at any moment.

9. Pulling your own tooth rather than pay for a dental visit.

10. Doing laundry in the sink with dish soap.

11. Buying antibiotics and other medicines meant for animals because you couldn’t afford the pharmacy.

12. Learning when things like meat, fish and bread get marked down in price because they are going to spoil soon, so they are reduced for quicker sale.

13. Living in pain because you can’t afford prescriptions.

14. Paying hundreds of extra dollars to obtain furniture through rent-to-own stores.

15. Buying cheap plastic toys at the dollar store so your children have birthday presents.

16. Stretching peanut butter or other staples by diluting them.

17. Washing and re-using plastic spoons, forks, knives and storage bags.

18. Visiting a store or public building to get a few minutes of air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter.

19. Enduring the seemingly never-ending cycle of payday loans with exhorbitant interest rates that are hard to repay.

20. Dropping out of school to help your family pay the bills.

21. Using candles to keep electricity bills low.

22. Splitting two-ply toilet paper to make two rolls.

23. Buying lottery tickets to have some hope of a better future.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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LIUNA, UAW Members Guests of First Lady at State of the Union

Two union members, one representing the benefits of union training and apprenticeship programs and the other the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry were guests of first lady Michelle Obama during last night’s State of the Union address.

Laborers (LIUNA) Local 300 member LeDaya Epps said:

The skills training I received through my union has done more than teach me a trade. It’s renewed my life. It has been a lifeline to a career I am proud of and allowed me to provide for myself and my three children.

Epps was unemployed a year ago, but with the help of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, an affiliate of the UCLA Labor Center, enrolled in an apprenticeship-readiness program sponsored by the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building Trades Council. After completing that training, she entered Local 300’s apprenticeship program.

The Compton, Calif., native is currently working on a project to expand the light rail train line for the LA Metro to Los Angeles International Airport.

During his address, President Barack Obama spoke forcefully about how job training and paid apprenticeships, such as the one that has opened doors for Epps, are “opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.”

He also called for laws that “that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice [and]…that make sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.”

Read more about Epps and her journey from jobless to a family-supporting union job from LIUNA, the North America’s Building Trades Unions and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Also sitting with Mrs. Obama was Tiairris Woodward of UAW Local 7 in Detroit. She works at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Chrysler has emerged from its 2009 bankruptcy and now, like the entire American automobile industry, is making big contributions to the nation’s economy.

Woodward, a 43-year-old mom from Harrison, Mich., took on a second full-time job at Chrysler in 2010 after she found that she couldn’t support herself and her three children. After working 17-hour days across two jobs for some time, Tiairris was able to move solely to her Chrysler assembly line position. Within a year, she’d saved enough to buy a car and rent a new apartment and is attending college.

Earlier this month, Woodward wrote the White House thanking Obama for his actions that helped Chrysler survive bankruptcy and revived the auto industry. Read more on Woodward from the Detroit News.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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18,000 California Nurses Win Stronger Patient Care, Workplace Protections in New Kaiser Pact

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Some 18,000 California registered nurses, members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU), who work at 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics are voting this week on a new contract. The agreement, reached after months of negotiations, will give the RNs a stronger voice on patient care and provides breakthrough improvements in workplace protections.

The union also called off a scheduled two-day strike this week against Kaiser Permanente.

CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro praised “the unity of Kaiser RNs and their devotion to assuring the highest level of quality care for patients as well as protections for the nurses who deliver that care.”

The unions said a key to the settlement was the agreement by Kaiser to establish a new committee of direct care RNs and nurse practitioners who will work with management to address the concerns RNs have about care standards in Kaiser facilities. Zenei Cortez, RN, co-president of the CNA, said:

We have an agreement that will strengthen the ability of Kaiser RNs to provide the optimal level of care our patients deserve, while establishing additional security for nurses.

In addition to the new patient care and workplace protection improvements, Kaiser has committed to hiring hundreds of new RNs and to providing training and employment opportunities for new RN graduates. The agreement also provides significant economic gains and additional retirement security.

Read more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: Obama ‘Forcefully Advocated for Working Families’ in State of Union

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “President Obama eloquently and forcefully advocated for working families throughout his State of the Union Address,” last night. He also said:

The  president’s focus on raising wages through collective bargaining, better paying jobs, a fairer tax code, fair overtime rules, and expanded access to education and earned leave sent the right message at the right time.

Read the rest of the statement below:

So did his embrace of union apprentices and immigrants who want to achieve the American Dream. The president has again demonstrated his strong commitment to creating an economy that truly works for all working people.

Fighting income inequality is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As Oxfam recently reminded us, the world’s wealth continues to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. If we are serious about solving this monumental challenge, the size of the solutions must meet the scale of the problem. We must have a similarly vigorous response to the barriers to raising wages: our opposition to fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations must be resolute. We can’t face the competitive challenge of China with a trade deal that fails to adequately address currency manipulation, climate change or that gives corporations rights that people don’t have.

Now is the time for politicians to champion a Raising Wages agenda that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. America has now heard what the president thinks about this agenda. We thank the president for his passion and his advocacy. We are ready to see what he and Congress will do about it. That is the ultimate standard of accountability.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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To Represent Their Party Tonight, GOP Chooses ALEC Alum and Koch Ally

Who did the Republican Party choose to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union tonight? Someone who represents the anti-worker, corporate-influenced, Koch-dominated wing of their party: newly-elected Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA).

The network of organizations affiliated with oil billionaires David and Charles Koch spent about $300 million on the 2014 elections. This network includes Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Donors Trust, and a dizzying array of think tanks and astroturf organizations.

The Kochs also heavily fund ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the “Match.com” nonprofit that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists to write “model bills” which are then distributed to pass in state houses. ALEC “model bills” that became law include Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, Michigan’s union-busting “right to work” law, and Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” gun law.

Ernst was one of those state legislators who joined ALEC after her election to the Iowa Senate in 2011. In June 2014, Ernst told a group of Koch-affiliated donors at a closed-door meeting in California: “the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

She wasn’t wrong. Ernst was enormous beneficiary of the Koch network from day one of her campaign, as PR Watch reports:

In her campaign for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat, Ernst was the underdog early in the crowded Republican primary, but soon became the darling of outside spending groups, maintaining a $12 million lead in outside spending over her Democratic opponent into the final weeks of the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A few days after Ernst’s appearance at the Dana Point summit, Charles Koch and his wife, son, and daughter-in-law maxed-out on donations to Ernst, and much of the outside spending supporting Ernst or attacking her opponent came from Koch-tied groups like the 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund, Freedom Partners Action Fund, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Americans for Prosperity.

During the campaign, Ernst’s spokeswoman was Gretchen Hamel, who led the Koch-backed group Public Notice. Once elected, Ernst hired as her Chief of Staff Lisa Goes, a former VP at the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a group which, not coincidentally, ran radio and online ads on behalf of Ernst during the campaign.

So what do the Kochs and their network get for all this support? As a candidate, Joni Ernst opposed raising the minimum wage, and said she considered privatizing Social Security an “option.” She also signed the pledge from super-lobbyist Grover Norquist saying that she would oppose the elimination of tax breaks, including those for companies that ship jobs overseas. In fact, we found it difficult to identify a single policy difference between her campaign rhetoric and the ideas advanced by the Koch brothers’ network.

The selection of Senator Ernst to respond to President Obama on behalf of the Republican Party comes at a time when the Koch network’s political operation is beginning to rival that of the GOP itself. Americans tuning in tonight would be fair in questioning whether Ernst will be representing an opposition political party or the network of donors that, by her own admission, propelled her into the U.S. Senate.

Read more from PR Watch.

Learn more about the Koch network, aka “The Kochtopus.

Learn more about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Photo by areflaten on Flickr

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Trash Haulers Strike and Stand Together, Win New Contract

Trash Haulers Strike and Stand Together, Win New Contract

After a 13-day strike, followed by two meetings with a federal mediator, trash haulers employed by Unity Disposal in Montgomery and Howard counties in Maryland have ratified a new four-year collective bargaining agreement.

The new contract provides immediate pay raises for all Unity drivers and helpers, increases overall paid time off, ensures employees who work extra routes will now get paid more for that extra work, and provides a grievance procedure that puts into writing a fair disciplinary policy. Unity helper Francisco Fuentes said:

We stood up and we insisted that we all be treated with respect and paid fairly. We stuck together, we kept our eyes on the finish line, and we now have a new contract that recognizes the value of the work we do, and allows us to better support our families.

Unity Disposal contracts with Montgomery and Howard counties to provide trash pick-up service to more than 60,000 households.

Read more from LIUNA Mid-Atlantic here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Time to Close Wall Street’s ‘Retirement Advice Loophole’

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There is a loophole in the rules that govern Wall Street brokers and financial firms that provide retirement investment advice that can drain away thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars of hard-earned savings from a single retirement account. Today, a coalition of senior, union and consumer groups launched a new website—SaveOurRetirement.org—to mobilize support to close the “Retirement Advice Loophole” through a new rule the U.S. Department of Labor is trying to adopt.

The way workers save for retirement has changed dramatically over the past decades. With the decline in traditional pensions, more and more workers depend on 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and they frequently seek investment advice from financial professionals. But the rule governing when that advice must be solely in the worker’s interest, free from conflicts of interest, has not been changed since 1975—and many loopholes exist.

The “Retirement Advice Loophole“ allows Wall Street brokers and financial firms with major conflicts of interest to provide investment advice that serves their own interests instead of what’s best for their clients.

For example, they can sell financial products that pay large commissions but hurt their clients with unnecessary fees, poor returns or excessive risks. Millions of Americans are affected by this loophole every year without even knowing it, and it is draining away their retirement savings.

Right now, some advisers are required to put their customers’ interests first while others are not—and it is often extremely difficult for workers and retirees to know which type of adviser they are dealing with.

The Labor Department rule has been under development for some time but has not been released yet. However, it is expected to require that investment advisers have no conflict of interest that might, for example, cause them to steer their clients toward investments that earn the adviser high fees but might not be in the client’s best interest. The rule should require anyone who gives retirement investment advice to act solely in their client’s best interest—a common sense standard known as the fiduciary duty.

Of course, Wall Street and the financial industry are adamantly opposed to reforming the rules. Two years ago they lobbied hard for a House bill aimed at derailing any new Labor Department investment advice rule, and surely they will be spending big money to do the same thing in 2015.

Be sure to visit SaveOurRetirement.org to learn more and find out how you can help close the “Retirement Advice Loophole.”

The groups in the coalition are the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AARP, Americans for Financial Reform, Better Markets, Consumer Federation of America and the Pension Rights Center.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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