When Walmart Cut Insurance for 30,000 Workers, This Is How We Responded

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Last October, Walmart cut health insurance for about 30,000 part time workers. Starting January 1, 2015, only part-time associates who work 30 to 34 a week qualify for coverage.

This recent move from the country’s largest private employer is the latest in a series of steps to pare down health care costs, often at the expense of local taxpayers. It wasn’t long ago that Walmart offered health coverage for all part-time workers. But in 2011, Walmart cut coverage for new employees who worked fewer than 24 hours. In 2012, they went even further, dropping insurance for those who worked fewer than 30 hours a week. Now, those workers who were grandfathered into the health plan have been dropped.

Keep in mind: despite recent improvements, individual Walmart associates have very little control over their schedules, and managers are able to cut costs by keeping workers’ hours under the 30-hour threshold. And for those associates who actually qualify, the company’s health care plan is fraught with problems.

Luckily, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it’s now easier for individuals to purchase health coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace. To help everyday workers, OUR Walmart and Working America Health Care have teamed up to offer Walmart associates an even better deal.

OUR Walmart members who enroll in a qualified health plan through Working America Health Care will have access to special member benefits: dental and vision discounts, as well as a personal Health Advocate to answer questions and help workers deal with insurance companies.

This past November, many of us stood up for Walmart associates on Black Friday. More than 11,000 Working America members signed petitions calling for $15 an hour and access to full-time hours for all Walmart workers. We made calls, shared information with friends, and joined in solidarity with Walmart associates at stores across the country.

But making change at Walmart and in the lives of its workers is about more than just one day: and that’s why we’re incredibly proud of this collaboration to help provide answers, stability, and a measure of security for Walmart workers and their families.

Are you a Walmart worker? Do you know someone who is? Click here to learn more about the available health care benefits or call 888-693-0159 for more information.

Whether or not you work at Walmart, you can have access to special benefits by enrolling in health coverage through Working America Health Care by February 15. Click here to learn more or call 855-698-2479.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America and Union Plus with the mission of informing folks about the Affordable Care Act and connecting them with quality health insurance coverage.

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Tell the Montgomery County Council to Pass a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights

Tell the Montgomery County Council to Pass a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights

Taxi drivers in Montgomery County, Md., work long hours and make barely above the minimum wage because the companies they work for charge them tens of thousands of dollars in fees each month. Fed up with this situation, these workers have proposed a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights that would make sure drivers are paid a living wage, that they have basic workplace protections and are able to give their customers the best service possible. And they are working to get the County Council to pass the bill, which also would update the outdated dispatch system to improve service and convenience for riders and regulate companies like Uber.

In August, members of Montgomery County Professional Drivers Union (MCPDU) voted to affiliate with National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA). Taxi drivers in Montgomery County are labeled as independent contractors. Because of their independent status, the more than 800 licensed taxi drivers in Montgomery County are not protected by any wage and hour laws or workers’ compensation laws and have no health insurance, disability insurance or any form of retirement benefits.

MCPDU President Peter Ibik explains the need for the bill:

I’ve been a taxi driver for more than 16 years, and I work in Montgomery County, Md. I love my job, but it’s getting harder and harder to support my family by doing it.

In Montgomery County, like in a lot of other places across the country, taxi drivers have to pay a lot of excessive fees that the companies we work for, like Barwood Taxi, impose on us. These fees can be nearly $35,000, which means, by the time we get our paycheck, many of us barely make minimum wage even after working 16-hour days. But it doesn’t have to be that way….

The Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights is the right thing to do for everyone in Montgomery County. For drivers, many who work and live in the county, it would rein in the out of control fees we need to pay in order to do our job. It also would make sure we had protections against company managers who can now fire us without cause; and it would give us a voice, as workers, to hold companies accountable.

But it’s not only good for drivers like me. It would be good for riders like you, too. High fees have meant customers get saddled with higher costs, but this bill would stop that from happening. It also would ensure that every driver in Montgomery County was experienced and professional and that companies like Uber were regulated and played by the same rules as other taxi and limo services….

It’s a win-win for everyone. We just need to make sure that council members recognize that, too, and don’t give in to taxi company CEOs and lobbyists who are just looking to make as much money as they can off the backs of drivers.

Send a message to the members of the Montgomery County Council now.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Drama Behind Reality TV Cameras Puts Producers on the Line

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This is a cross-post from the Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council’s Union City.

Inhumanly long hours, cruelty, frayed nerves. And that’s just behind the cameras at reality shows. “It’s scary and nerve-wracking,” says Sevita Qarshi, a producer walking the line Thursday outside the Realscreen conference at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Qarshi has worked on a number of reality TV shows and says that the working conditions for the men and women producing the popular programs are just as dramatic as those in front of the cameras.

It’s just awful. Incredibly long hours, many of them unpaid, no sick days, no health insurance, no job security and constant stress.

The target of Thursday’s picket lines, organized by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), is ITV Studios, a U.K.-owned television production company. The WGAE has successfully organized six major production companies and is fighting to win a contract with ITV, one of the conference sponsors, which is refusing to sign a deal with the WGAE even though the employees voted to organize four years ago.

The action was part of the industry-wide campaign to organize some 2,000 writers and producers of reality and nonfiction TV programming in New York City. Said WGAE Director of Organizing Justin Molito, as picketers chanted nearby:

Reality and nonfiction TV employees are victims of rampant wage theft and, in many cases, receive no health benefits at all. Unfortunately, this sort of freelance precarious labor is spreading into more and more industries.

“We get to work with a lot of great people,” said Qarshi, “but ITV wants more for less, and everybody’s overworked and stressed out.” Winning a union “would mean we have rights.” She added:

It would stop the intimidation, and help us feel appreciated for our hard work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Community Organizers, Worker Centers Get Big LIFT

Photo courtesy of VOZ

The AFL-CIO announced today the third round of LIFT [Labor Innovation Fund for the Twenty-First Century] Fund grants, which will be awarded to a diverse group of organizations that are organizing workers outside of traditional models.  Past recipients include the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, which helps workers such as LeDaya Epps to find good-paying jobs through apprenticeship programs. LeDaya attended the 2015 State of the Union address at the invitation of first lady Michelle Obama.

The VOZ Workers Center in Portland, Ore., is one of the grant recipients, and Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said:

In Oregon, we stand up for all workers and are proud to help support innovative partnerships that help with that fight. We’re proud to be a labor partner in the LIFT Fund’s grant process and even more excited to help fuel worker empowerment.

The fund was established in 2011 as a partnership between the AFL-CIO and philanthropic institutions that share the federation’s vision for a world in which workers are treated by employers with the dignity they deserve.  Partners include the General Service Foundation, the New World Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Solidago Foundation and the Discount Foundation. The LIFT Fund is the first of its kind to support collaboration and innovation around new forms of worker organizing between worker centers and traditional labor.

This year’s grantees comprise a diverse set of workers and sectors, including domestic workers in Connecticut fighting to strengthen legal protections and day laborers in California working to learn new skills. The primary purpose of all grants is to support work at the local or state level and is focused on helping develop power among vulnerable populations of workers, including immigrants, African Americans, women and rural workers. The money goes exclusively to the worker center but envisions on the ground collaboration with the local labor movement to expand local power.

Montague Simmons, director of Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis, Mo., said:

We recognize that our struggle is inextricably linked to the fight for economic justice. The LIFT grant will support our work to engage and organize those who have been at the forefront of our fight and who also tend to be the most vulnerable to the economic violence waged against our communities.

Grantees are:

  • Organization for Black Struggle, St. Louis (Labor Partner: Painters and Allied Trades District Council 58)
  • CLEAN Carwash, Los Angeles (Labor Partner: United Steelworkers Local 675)
  • Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco (Labor Partner: UNITE HERE Local 2)
  • Community Voices Heard, New York (Labor Partner: AFSCME District Council 37)
  • Lynn Worker Center for Economic Justice (Labor Partner: North Shore Labor Council)
  • Make the Road/NYCC (Labor Partner: RWSDU)
  • NDLON, Los Angeles (Labor Partner: LA County Federation)
  • NDWA/Brazilian Immigrant Center, Connecticut (Labor Partner: UAW Region 9A)
  • National Guest Workers Alliance, New Orleans (Labor Partner: Ironworkers Union)
  • ROC-United, National (Labor Partners: United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council)
  • Sunflower/Kansas People’s Action, Wichita, Kansas (Labor Partner: Wichita/Hutchinson Labor Federation and CWA)
  • VOZ Workers Center (Labor Partner: Oregon AFL-CIO)
  • Vermont Workers Center (Labor Partner: Vermont State Labor Council)
  • Warehouse Workers Resource Council (Labor Partner: UFCW Western States Council)

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Wal-Mart’s Manufacturing Recovery?

Wal-Mart’s Manufacturing Recovery?

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, told Americans that manufacturing in the United States is back. The president is right to applaud job creation in manufacturing. But both elected leaders and the public should be wary of one company, in particular, falsely taking credit for this “manufacturing renaissance”: Wal-Mart.

Two years ago, Wal-Mart launched the U.S. Manufacturing Initiative, a pledge to create 1 million new jobs over the next 10 years through buying “U.S.-made goods.” But Wal-Mart has done very little to improve America’s jobs. In fact, it continues to harm our nation’s job market.

Wal-Mart is the largest buyer of consumer goods in the world and is the nation’s largest importer of goods. Wal-Mart’s public relations campaign about U.S. manufacturing aims to distract Americans from two core aspects of Wal-Mart’s business model.

First, as the country’s largest private-sector employer, the company has played a leading role in driving down service-sector wages for millions of working families. The majority of workers in Wal-Mart stores are paid less than $25,000 a year.

Second, the company is hoping Americans will forget that Wal-Mart has played a leading role in the offshoring of America’s jobs.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers: Obama says more than 780,000 manufacturing jobs have been created since February 2010. Yet, America’s workers have lost an estimated 3.2 million jobs, most of which were in manufacturing, since 2001 due to trade imbalances with China alone. Between 2011 and 2013, 500,000 jobs alone were eliminated or displaced, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute. This job loss—mostly in advanced technology manufacturing, meaning parts for electronics—created a gap in job creation in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturers need to hire at a much higher rate to even approach closing the gap.

Wal-Mart has not made public any real numbers regarding its impact on U.S. manufacturing job creation. The suppliers that are part of the Wal-Mart initiative have created only about 2,000 U.S. jobs in the past two years, according to anecdotal evidence on Wal-Mart’s website.

Sadly, even Wal-Mart’s poster child for its U.S. manufacturing initiative, Element Electronics, seems to be little more than window dressing. Wal-Mart sells Element televisions marketed as “American-assembled” at Wal-Mart stores nationwide, yet as The Wall Street Journal reported last year, the TVs arrive in the United States nearly completely assembled from China in boxes labeled “Assembled in the U.S.A.” Workers in South Carolina check for defects, install a memory card and put the TVs back in the boxes, to be shipped to Wal-Mart. This is not the kind of high-skill, high-investment manufacturing that will help rebuild America’s middle class.

Wal-Mart says it wants to be part of the solution of rebuilding our manufacturing sector. But to walk the walk, Wal-Mart needs to sell a much higher percentage of goods in its stores that are actually manufactured in the United States, thus helping to stop the offshoring of jobs and creating real, quality manufacturing jobs in America. And if Wal-Mart wants to really make a difference for America’s families, the company should listen to its 1.3 million associates when they speak out for “$15 and full-time”—an income a person can actually live on.

Wal-Mart is right about one thing. The company is so big that its choices move our economy. When it outsources, manufacturing jobs disappear. When it pays poverty-level wages, other employers follow suit. If it chooses to really support raising wages and rebuilding America’s manufacturing, it could make a real difference.

As President Obama moves forward in his efforts to rebuild America’s manufacturing and create good jobs, he and our country need something more than PR gestures and poverty wages from our nation’s largest importer and largest employer.

Damon Silvers is the AFL-CIO policy director and special counsel. This article originally appeared on The Hill.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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