Retail Working America Members Win Changes by Standing Together

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Minnesota has made a name for itself as a major hub of the retail industry – look no further than Target and Best Buy, both headquartered in the state. Yet, even as big retail stores reap billions in profits from eager shoppers, retail workers haven’t shared in those gains.

Now, that’s changing. By joining Working America, retail workers are gaining a stronger voice on the job and demanding corporate accountability. In 2014, workers took action to raise the state’s minimum wage, a low $6.15 an hour, and won. The new $9.50 base hourly wage takes the state from having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country to one of the highest when it fully kicks in by 2016, giving more than 325,000 Minnesotans a much-needed raise.

Retail workers from Working America are also joining together to work directly with their co-workers to change their specific workplaces and solve problems on the job.

Last fall, workers from a Twin Cities mall started talking about how they could win changes at their job.  Associates faced low wages, and those working part time lacked health care. Workers faced racial discrimination, no paid sick days and safety challenges. One worker was assaulted by a customer and sustained a concussion while at work. Despite all this, managers had done little to address workers’ concerns, and morale on the job was low.

The workers wanted to do something about it.

The associates met regularly to set priorities and strategize about how to make things better. They circulated a petition calling for paid sick days and distributed surveys to see what co-workers wanted in a better workplace. After building support throughout the store, the members brought their concerns directly to management. They talked with supervisors and directors about the problems they and their co-workers faced and how they were coming together to address these challenges.

By standing united, they saw results.

Management announced shortly after the meeting that workers would be receiving wage increases, paid sick days and that benefits would be added for part-time workers.

Workers at this mall in Minnesota made it happen. They won needed improvements and gained a newfound confidence by talking with one another and uniting for a collective voice. We still have much to do. Workers at the mall continue to face low wages, safety concerns and other problems, but the group showed that by coming together, workers can create a better workplace.

The fight continues to give all retail workers the kinds of initial gains made at one Twin Cities mall. Retail workers are talking with state lawmakers about the need for paid sick days, and they’re leading the call for fair scheduling policies at the state and local level, testifying at a recent hearing.

To get involved in the fight for a better Minnesota for retail workers, contact Working America Minnesota.

Like Retail Working America on Facebook

Image via mo1229 on Flickr

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11 Things You Need to Know About Safety for Workers Memorial Day

Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year, the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and pay fair wages and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.

Here are 11 facts about worker safety and health you should know in honor of Workers Memorial Day:

1. In 2013, more than 4,400 workers were killed on the job and more than 50,000 more died from occupational diseases.

2. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 4 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported. Research indicates that the numbers may be underestimated and may actually be two or three times greater than what BLS reports.

3. Certain occupations have much greater risk than others. These include agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, transportation, warehousing, mining and construction.

4. More than 8 million state and local public employees lack the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections while they face a 58% higher injury and illness rate than private-sector workers.

5. Latino workers have a workplace fatality rate 19% higher than the national average. The majority of these workers are immigrants.

6. There is no federal workplace standard (and few state standards) for workplace violence. Meanwhile there were more than 26,000 workplace injuries related to violence in 2013, including nearly 400 deaths. Women workers in health care and social assistance are most likely to face workplace violence.

7. Workplace suicides, many related to toxic work environments and bullying, increased by 8% in 2013.

8. The Occupational Safety and Health Act is more than 40 years old and is out of date. Millions of workers aren’t covered, workers’ rights are limited and penalties for violating the law are weak.

9. OSHA has fewer than 900 inspectors, meaning they can inspect workplaces, on average, once every 140 years. State OSHA inspectors amount to a little more than 1,000, meaning they can inspect workplaces once every 91 years.

10. Many workers face retaliation at work for raising job safety concerns or reporting injuries.

11. Most workplace chemical hazards are unregulated and the rules in place haven’t been updated since 1971.

Find a Workers Memorial Day event near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka Details Labor’s Fight Against Fast Track and Bad Trade Deals

In an extensive interview with Vox.com, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlines the labor movement’s fight against Fast Track, the flaws in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, the trade relationship between the United States and China and the shortcomings and negative impact on the middle class of the nation’s trade policy.

Below are excerpts from the interview. Click here for the full interview.

Fast Track

We’re opposed to Fast Track. It’s too important a decision, and it affects too many lives of too many people for too long to be done in the dark and then plunk something out of the dark, a thousand-page treaty, and say, ‘Vote it up or down with no amendments.’ We think that’s the most undemocratic thing you can do. We think that’s dangerous.

TPP

‘It also fails to help create jobs here because it doesn’t have strong rules of origin,’ Trumka says. In other words, Trumka fears that Chinese companies could put factories in a TPP country like Vietnam or ship raw materials to a TPP country for assembly, which would give China the preferential access to U.S. markets provided by the TPP without having to follow the TPP itself.

It [undermines] things like Buy American policies. Say the taxpayers in Minneapolis decide they want to use their money to do something and they want to make it a Minnesota product, [if] that violates this trade agreement, and it can be negated.

Currency Manipulation

[The TPP] fails to address currency manipulation. Currency manipulation…has or will cost us between 2.3 million and 5.8 millionjobs. China leads that group. Twenty countries have been determined to have manipulated their currency. And yet there’s nothing in the agreement to stop it. So all of the benefits they claim we could get from TPP, even if you assume every one of the benefits is right, could be wiped out the next day by a country manipulating its currency, to negate all this.

Trade

He also says that the AFL-CIO is not opposed to all trade liberalization; rather, they’re opposed to ones they consider detrimental to workers’ interests: ‘We’re opposed to bad trade deals, not trade deals.’

Click here for the full interview.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Worker Wins Update: April Showers Bring Big Wins for Workers

Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Harvard Hotel Workers Make Smart Choice to Organize: Following a two year campaign, workers at the Soldiers Field Road DoubleTree Hotel, located in a building owned by Harvard, voted to organize with UNITE HERE Local 26. The workers will join Harvard dining hall workers as well as Boston-area hotel staff in the local union.

Next Stop for Double Decker Bus Tour Guides: A Union: Workers at a double-decker bus tour company in New York City have voted to join Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100, fighting back against poor working conditions and pay cuts. Local 100 currently represents some 40,000 transit workers throughout New York City.

Casino Workers Go ‘All-In’ on Union: The cards at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino will be dealt by union members after workers voted to join the National Gaming Workers Coalition, which includes UNITE HERE, UAW and Operating Engineers (IUOE).

Toady’s Lesson at Detroit Charter Schools: Forming a Union: Teachers from three Detroit charter schools have come together to file petitions to be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, a local union affiliated with the AFT.

Gawker Writers Submit Stories and Union Cards: Workers at Gawker Media announced that they will be forming a union with the Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO in New York City. Gawker writers cited need for a fair salary and stated clearly that “every workplace could use a union.”

Alaska Nurses Find the Right Prescription, Affiliate with AFT: In a move to strengthen the voices of nurses in Alaska, the Alaska Nurses Association Labor Program agreed to affiliate with AFT Nurses and Health Professionals. With this affiliation, AFT now represents 113,000 health care professionals across the country.

Rutgers Faculty Win Big in Classroom and at Bargaining Table: Nearly 4,700 full-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants signed a new contract protecting members from salary freezes, health care rate hikes and promising a raise in wages throughout the life of the contract. The contract, fought for by members of the American Association of University Professors–AFT, also will provide protections for about 7,000 graduate teaching assistants.

Howard University Physicians On-Call for Better Pay, Benefits: Resident physicians at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., have asked hospital officials to negotiate a new contract with their newly formed union after the National Labor Relations Board upheld the results of its January election last week.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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11 Ways Big Banks Make Life Harder for Working Families

A new report from the Center for Popular Democracy examines the ways that large financial institutions are helping dismantle the middle class and making life more difficult for working families. The top 10 banks alone bring in some $100 billion in annual profits, and a significant amount of that revenue is generated from sometimes unethical and questionable tactics that working families have a hard time fighting back against.

Here are 11 ways the big banks are making life harder for working families:

1. While 27% of Americans have no or little access to financial services, the big banks are closing local branches, making the problem worse.

2. Banks are pressuring their workers to push customers to purchase services that use predatory banking practices instead of sound financial principles. Quotas drive the process rather than the needs of customers.

3. The large financial institutions are cutting wages, benefits and hours for workers, making it harder for them to serve customers and increasing work-related stress.

4. Core banking activities for the average worker, such as helping people open and manage accounts or plan for retirement or obtain a credit card, are considered low value services by the banks, and they are actively trying to avoid those services in favor of higher profit activities such as mortgages.

5. Workers who can’t fill their quotas for pushing mismatched or predatory products and services are threatened with termination or had their paychecks docked for the amount they fell short of their quotas.

6. Since 2011, 17 lawsuits have been settled by the financial services industry for alleged illegal and unethical business practices. The banks have paid out nearly $46 billion.

7. At least three banks are accused of charging people of color higher interest rates or fees than white borrowers.

8. The big five banks are accused of steering people of color into dangerous subprime mortgages.

9. Two banks have, in the past, maximized their profits off of overdraft fees by posting charges in order of the largest dollar amount first, increasing the likelihood that not only are customers more likely to overdraft their accounts, but more likely to do so multiple times.

10. Three financial institutions were charged with forcing homeowners to buy overpriced property insurance.

11. Nearly one-fifth of employees at the biggest banks reported that more and more jobs had been moved from full-time to part-time.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Rana Plaza, 2 Years Later: Garment Workers Under Siege

April 24 is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,130 garment workers. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell reports that in the months after the 2013 tragedy, global outrage spurred much-needed changes, including the closing of dozens of unsafe factories, the adoption of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and, most significantly, the formation and recognition of workers’ unions by the Bangladeshi government.

But in recent months, those freedoms are increasingly rare, say garment workers and union leaders….Despite garment workers’ desire to join a union, they increasingly face barriers to do so, including employer intimidation, threatened or actual physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to registration. Regulators also seem unwilling to penalize employers for unfair labor practices.

In addition, thousands of workers still toil in unsafe factories. In the two years since the fire at Tazreen Fashions, at least 31 workers have died in garment factory fire incidents in Bangladesh, and more than 900 people have been injured (excluding Rana Plaza), according to Solidarity Center data.

Read the full story here, and on Wednesday be sure to check back with the Solidarity Center for stories from the survivors and about the lack of sufficient compensation for survivors and families of those killed.

Read more herehere and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Fast Track Bill Introduced—Join the Drive to Stop Fast Track

Legislation granting Fast Track trade authority to President Barack Obama was introduced in the Senate today. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals. For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs.

Call your senators—855-790-8815—and tell them to say no to Fast Track.

Fast Track would make it easier to ram through complicated trade deals without significant oversight from members of Congress or the public, just a simple “Yes” or “No” vote with no amendments allowed on trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been a leading voice in the Senate against Fast Track, said:

There’s too much at stake for Congress to be rushing through a bill that would allow more NAFTA-style trade deals. Our manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 1994. While we’ve seen an impressive recovery, the more than 629,000 Ohio jobs tied to the auto industry could be at risk if our trade deals don’t protect against competitors that cheat trade law or manipulate currency. Rushing a trade package through Congress without a healthy debate is not only reckless, but it’s a betrayal to middle class and working families in Ohio.

Trumka called on Congress to reject Fast Track and “maintain its constitutional authority and leverage to improve the TPP and other trade deals.” He added:

Trade deals have wide-ranging impacts and shouldn’t be negotiated behind closed doors and then rubber-stamped.  The current Trans-Pacific Partnership deal under discussion would cover 40 percent of the world’s GDP.  A deal this big should be debated in a full and open manner like every other piece of legislation.

On Saturday, a coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, faith, farm, business and other groups is staging a national day of action to stop Fast Track. Click here to find a Fast Track action near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Walmart, Fast-Food Workers Lead Nationwide Fight for $15 Strike

Today, tens of thousands of Walmart workers, fast-food, retail and other low-wage workers are engaged in a massive, nationwide strike in their fight for $15 an hour, consistent full-time hours and the right to join a union.

Lisa Pietro, a two-year Walmart employee from Winter Haven, Fla., who made just $8.95 an hour before Walmart’s recent increase to a minimum of $9 an hour, said:

I’m proud to be part of a growing movement of moms and dads, brothers and sisters like me, who are standing up for better jobs. A company like Walmart, which brings in $16 billion in annual profits, can afford to provide the pay and hours that our families need. The raise we just won at Walmart shows what working people can accomplish when we stand together.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

The voices of Walmart and fast-food workers have shown the power of collective action in standing up to corporate greed and a system that for far too long has only benefited those at the very top.

Since the Black Friday Walmart strikes and the fast-food workers strikes began more than two years ago, the movement for $15 an hour, full-time work and consistent scheduling has grown to include retail workers, home care providers, airport workers, adjunct professors and more and gained support around the globe.

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The growing voice of the workers and support from their communities and many lawmakers has pressured employers like Walmart, McDonald’s and others to raise wages some but not nearly close to $15. Said Trumka:

While some wages have been raised, there is much work to be done, and workers will continue to speak out until wages are fair, conditions are improved and every voice is heard in the workplace.

For more, see #Fightfor15.
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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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5 Lies About the Estate Tax and the Truth Behind the Lies

On Tax Day this year, April 15, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to introduce legislation that would repeal the estate tax, a policy designed to limit the concentration of wealth in the United States, generate revenue for the federal government by having those most able to pay and encourage charitable giving. The legislation comes as congressional Republican budget plans propose to slash trillions of dollars in money that benefits working families and gives away massive sums to corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) has compiled a series of dishonest and hypocritical quotes from conservatives about the estate tax and related issues. ATF Executive Director Frank Clemente explained the Republican tax agenda:

Conservatives know their economic priorities are extremely unpopular—the American people want an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. So when they try to eliminate the estate tax, which affects only multimillionaires and billionaires, they resort to outright falsehoods in making their case and use phony rhetoric claiming they care about the rest of us. Repealing the estate tax will only increase inequality in America. These quotes help the American people understand what conservatives do, not what they say.

Here are five common lies about the estate tax and the truth behind them:

  1. “[T]his tax doesn’t just hit the big guy. It hits the little guy—like the small business and the family farm. It is both unwise and unfair, and it needs to go.”—Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). In reality, this law only affects the top 0.2% of estates, those worth more than $5.4 million for an individual, or nearly $11 million for a married couple.
  2. “The Death Tax is still the number one reason family-owned farms and businesses in America aren’t passed down to the next generation.”—Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas). The estate tax (the non-right-wing propaganda name for the law) has never caused a family farm to be lost.
  3. “If you…make the argument that only rich and wealthy people pay this tax, that is not true. It’s not true for almost every farmer and rancher in this country, it’s not true for every small business owner out there.” “I am committed to repealing this unjust—and frankly, immoral—tax that hurts small businesses and family farms most.”—Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.). While there are millions of small businesses and small family farms in the United States, only 20 of them qualified to pay the estate tax in 2013.
  4. “The death tax is especially destructive to women and minority-owned small businesses in America who are building wealth often for the first time….A study by Boston College professors estimates the death tax could rob African American households of up to a quarter-trillion dollars of wealth over the first half of this century.”—Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas). The study that Brady cites shows that significantly fewer than 1% of African American households have a net worth that would cause them to pay the estate tax.
  5. “For too long the federal government has forced grieving families to pay a tax on their loved one’s life savings that have been built from income already taxed when originally earned.”—Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). In reality, 55% of the value of estates worth more than $100 million are unrealized capital gains that have not been subject to income or capital gains tax. For estates worth anywhere between $5 million and $10 million, the unrealized capital gains that have not been taxed is 32% of their overall value. Without an estate tax, heirs also can escape paying any taxes on those gains.

The AFL-CIO has joined a coalition of more than 70 organizations opposing the repeal of the estate tax. Read more facts about the estate tax.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Bill Would Make 9/11 Survivors Health Care Program Permanent

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

The original legislation passed in 2010, but two key components are set to expire this fall. The bill is named after James Zadroga, a police officer who died in 2006 from respiratory disease attributed to his exposure to the deadly toxins at Ground Zero following the attacks. (See the video above from the Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.)

More than 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath, and more than two-thirds of those have more than one illness. Many are disabled and can no longer work. They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases, including serious pulmonary disease, cancer and more caused by exposure to toxins and carcinogens at Ground Zero.

Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger said:

For almost 14 years, first responders have been dealing with the after effects of the 9/11 attacks. For many, this is a fight that will never end. It is our duty to honor those who worked in the terrible aftermath by making sure that the critical programs authorized by the Zadroga bill are renewed.

The World Trade Center Health Program, which provides health services to people who developed cancers and other illnesses as a result of the recovery and cleanup effort, expires at the end of September. Nearly 71,000 people are in the program and 58,924 of those received treatment in 2014. The measure would make that program permanent.

The bill also would continue the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that provides funds for medical care and treatment to responders who worked at any of the sites that were targeted on 9/11. Said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler:

We can’t and won’t let this law expire. As a country, we owe the heroes of 9/11 the care and support they need and deserve. We must pass this bill to renew and extend the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Studies show that 9/11 workers have gotten certain cancers—including prostate, thyroid and multiple myeloma—at significantly higher rates than the general population. More than 80 New York City Police Department and more than 100 New York City Fire Department personnel have reportedly died from their 9/11-related illnesses since Sept. 11. More police officers have died from their injuries since 9/11 than perished on Sept. 11.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said AFL-CIO state federations will work to secure bipartisan support for the bill.

The labor movement remains committed to ensuring that the people who are suffering as a result of their bravery and determination continue to receive the care and support they deserve.

Click here to read more comments from lawmakers and to learn more about the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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