Working America Helped Put Colorado Jobs Bill Over the Top

We had some good news for American workers out of Colorado last Friday. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) signed House Bill 1292, the “Keep Jobs in Colorado Act” into law.

This marked the successful conclusion to a two-year campaign waged by Working America, the Colorado AFL-CIO, and numerous other pro-worker organizations in the Centennial State.

It’s exactly the kind of bill that states should be passing.

When they assign projects, under the new law state agencies must take into consideration a contractor’s labor practices – wages, benefits, how they treat their workers – not just cost of the bid.

Plus, state-funded construction projects have to have at least 80 percent Colorado workers. Makes sense, right? Colorado projects should have Colorado workers? That requirement has been on the books for 80 years, but finally it has teeth – now there are penalties for contractors that don’t follow it.

A similar bill was first brought up in 2012. Since that time, Working America members and organizers had over 13,000 conversations, wrote over 1,000 handwritten letters, and collected over 1,300 petition signatures in communities around Colorado.

This is the type of commonsense legislation we hope to see elsewhere. Taxpayer funds should be used to hire local workers at good wages by contractors with good labor practices. Why Republicans in the legislature opposed this bill for two years is baffling, but thanks to the Colorado AFL-CIO working with pro-worker legislators and the advocacy of thousands of Coloradoans like you, it’s finally the law of the land.

Image by SenatorMikeJohnston on Flickr.

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Walmart, Gap Refuse to Sign Bangladesh Safety Pact

Image via SumofUs on Facebook

Following the tragic building collapse that killed more than 1,300 Bangladeshi garment workers and recent fires that have claimed the lives of more than 400 Bangladeshi clothing workers, more than 40 clothing retailers have signed on to the Accord on Building and Fire Safety. But two of the major retailers that count on low-wage Bangladeshi workers to make the clothes they sell have refused.

Today, Walmart and Gap announced they would develop their own nonbinding safety code and turned their backs on the accord developed by international and Bangladeshi unions, retailers and other groups—groups with firsthand knowledge of what’s needed for worker safety and of the deadly consequences of inaction.

According to the fashion blog Fashionista, the Walmart-Gap plan:

probably won’t be of a legally-binding nature, since that’s what Gap objected to in the Bangladesh safety accord. While Gap and Walmart are no doubt trying to quell consumer backlash, it will likely backfire if this new plan doesn’t place enough legal responsibility on retailers’ shoulders.

In a joint statement, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, the two labor federations, said they are:

deeply concerned about Walmart and Gap’s plan to move forward with a corporate-controlled, nonbinding process for adopting building safety standards in Bangladesh….This is a matter of life or death. Quite simply, nonbinding is just not good enough.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of the corporate watchdog, told Fashionista:

There is a serious gap in Gap’s credibility if it says that it only wants to sign the agreement if it is not legally binding.

In an effort to lend an air of legitimacy to their plans to develop their own safety accord, Walmart and Gap have asked former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and former Sen. Olympia Snowe to serve as “independent facilitators.” But, said the AFL-CIO and Change to Win:

While former Sens. George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe are both respected for their ability to forge compromises, we cannot afford to compromise the lives of Bangladeshi workers. We are determined to get this process right, and we will express our concerns to both former senators and ask that they not participate in undermining the ongoing and more productive process led by IndustriAll and UNI global labor federations.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Moms Are Main Breadwinners in 40% of Homes with Kids

Women are the only or primary breadwinners in 40% of households with children younger than 18 and 63% of those homes are headed by single mothers, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. In 1960, women accounted for just 11% of the main or sole earners in homes with children.

There is a huge wage gap between the single and married mothers, the study found. The median total family income of married mothers who earn more than their husbands was nearly $80,000 in 2011, well above the national median of $57,100 for all families with children, and nearly four times the $23,000 median for families led by single mothers.

If women received equal pay, both married and single women would be quite a bit better off because women get paid just 77 cents for every $1 men get paid. The picture is even worse for women of color. And the numbers haven’t budged in more than a decade.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84 and H.R. 377) would close loopholes in current equal pay laws that make it easier for employers to discriminate against women by paying them less. The legislation was blocked by a Republican filibuster last year and reintroduced in January. Urge your representatives to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The study does not examine the wage difference between women who hold union jobs and those employed in nonunion workplaces. But in 2012, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the median weekly paycheck for a woman working in a job with a collective bargaining agreement was $877 vs. $663 for women in nonunion jobs. That union difference cuts across occupations, too.

In addition, unionized workers are 54% more likely to have employer-provided pensions. More than 83% of union workers have jobs that provide health insurance benefits, but only 62% of nonunion workers do.

Read the full Pew Research study, and learn more about what the study means in this PBS interview with Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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#StrikePoverty: Punching In

Workers at New York car wash Hi-Tek ratified first union contract.

It’s the first such contract for a car wash in NYC, or east of Los Angeles

World’s richest 8 percent earn half of all planetary income.

Yet another reason not to shop at Walmart.

Switzerland is ready to crack down on tax cheats.

Ohio police and firefighters angry at John Kasich over lack of funding.

Finally: Seattle low-wage workers “strike poverty” and make a big splash. Congrats!

Built to Fail: Clocking Out

Thousands of miners will lose their benefits in the Patriot Coal bankruptcy case.

Even worse? Patriot Coal “seems to have been created to fail” by its parent company.

Solidarity: Baseball players’ union supports the workers who make MLB uniforms.

17% of the cost of tax expenditures–deductions and loopholes–goes to the top 1% of taxpayers.

A study in correlation versus causation and the bad arguments for austerity.

Good news, everyone! Banks have recovered and are more profitable than ever!

Meanwhile, most households still haven’t rebuilt their wealth post-recession.

The states rejecting Medicaid expansion funds are the ones that need it most.

The coming conflict over court appointments.

It’s not just these three seats: The courts will decide Obama’s legacy.

Cartoon of the Day: How corporations do their taxes.


Dear David: The Deal Has Been Altered


I worked as an independent contractor for a medical transcribing company while also contracting for other companies. This transcribing company was bought out by a huge conglomerate company. They then decided to offer all contractors full-time jobs, but at the same amount of money we were making as contractors. The main problem is that I then couldn’t contract with other places, so my income took a huge hit. Are there laws to protect me from this? Shouldn’t they have had to at least hire us at the hourly rate we were being paid as contractors?

— Contracting, Tennessee



In this economy, with both mergers, contract and temporary work fairly commonplace, it can be hard to keep track of who you even work for—and when the changes come at your expense, as seems to be the case here, it’s especially frustrating. I’ll assume, since you say here that you can’t contract with other places, that there is also some kind of “non-compete” clause in your employment contract which wouldn’t be at all unusual.

Working as an independent contractor can come with some real challenges—including no employer-provided unemployment insurance or worker’s comp, and there can be issues with fair pay and other workplace protections. For some, the trade-off is worth it for the flexibility and independence that it offers—like the opportunity to pick up additional contracts. However, it sounds like your employer wants ALL of the flexibility and control for itself.

Your rights in this situation are going to be determined by the terms of your contract. Absent a contract—individually or as part of a union—your employment is “at will,” and the employer can set whatever terms you’re willing to agree to (as long it complies with minimum wage and overtime laws and doesn’t illegally discriminate. If you had a contract with the former company for a certain term, then, depending on that contract’s terms, you and the new owner might have an obligation to continue abiding by the terms of your contract.

Once the contract expires, however, or if you or the new owner has any grounds for terminating the contract, you are left to whatever terms you are able to negotiate, or that you and your fellow employees are able to bargain for collectively.

Your employer has made a unilateral decision that benefits the company at your expense—an illustration of what is so skewed about the power dynamic between workers and employers in this country. It doesn’t have to be this way. Do you know any of your “new” coworkers? If not, this might be a good time to start talking to each other, gathering information and comparing notes. I’d bet many of them have some of the same questions.

Imagine what could happen if you all got together, decided on your top concerns together, and then built a plan to address them to your employer together. You don’t have to just wish for it—we can help you get there at

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High-Tech’s Low-Wage Strategy

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

When Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook and the other big-time cyber giants say they need to import more foreign high-tech workers and then put on a full-scale lobbying assault to up the number of H-1B visas allowed in the immigration reform bill now under consideration, what are they really after? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has the answer in an op-ed in today’s edition of USA Today.

This is about powerful companies pursuing lower wages.

The high-tech industry claims there is a shortage of qualified U.S. workers to fill their jobs. But, writes Trumka, in the fields of computer and information science and engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50% more students than there are new hires.

Clearly, high-tech is not looking to bring in H-1B visa holders for a few years at a time because there is a shortage of tech workers. They want a massive expansion of H-1B visa holders because they can pay them less.

Trumka makes clear that “America’s unions embrace immigrants and new citizens.”

But we need the right rules and policies in place to reach our potential. When foreign temporary workers get stuck in a revolving-door system that does not give them a realistic chance to stay and become citizens, then the ladder to the middle class is broken.

Read the full column in USA Today.

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Community Says “No” to Newark Walmart

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

When word leaked out late last year that Walmart was eyeing a piece of the prime Springfield Avenue Marketplace project in Newark, N.J., more than 50 local community, faith, labor and other groups said the last thing Newark needed was a Walmart that kills local small businesses, replaces those jobs with low-paid part-time work and lowers community standards.

The Walmart-Free Newark campaign mobilized local residents, business and lawmakers. That community action—organized by Working Families United for New Jersey—paid off with the recent announcement that regional and working family-friendly ShopRite—not Walmart—will take that prime Marketplace space. The group’s chair, Charles Hall Jr., says:

The determination of the Newark community was critical to defeating Walmart’s plans to build a store in their city and demonstrates the extraordinary strength of community solidarity. Not only were 50 local community groups able to overcome the world’s largest retailer, but, because of their efforts, Newark can now look forward to welcoming a family-friendly ShopRite to the community.

ShopRite, says Hall, will be “built, staffed and operated union and uplift the community by creating family-sustaining middle-class jobs for local residents.”

The coalition, including the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, testified before the Newark Planning Board and Newark City Council and held several demonstrations and rallies to oppose what Hall says is “Walmart’s plans to strong-arm its way into Newark.”

Through a combination of grassroots activism and lawsuits citing Walmart for an inadequate environmental impact study, working families were successful in keeping Walmart out of Newark.

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Missouri’s Tea Party Speaker Will Renew Push for Worker Attacks in 2014

Missouri’s Tea Party House Speaker Tim Jones might as well have put on a leather jacket and black sunglasses and intoned “I’ll be back.”

The Speaker is making sure his colleagues in the legislature know that he intends to make banning fair bargains – also known as “right to work” – a priority in 2014. This past session, despite the efforts of some extremist legislators, no such bill made it to the floor.

But it’s not as if this session didn’t have its share of attacks on workers’ rights. After a drawn-out fight, both the Missouri House and Senate passed paycheck deception and changes to prevailing wage legislation. Both bills weaken the ability of workers to advocate for better wages and benefits at the workplace.

Speaker Jones said early on that he considers paycheck deception, which makes it harder for unions to collect dues, a stepping stone to “the ultimate goal of right to work.”

Working America, along with allies like the Missouri AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Jobs with Justice, and Progress Missouri, mobilized in opposition to these attacks. Hundreds of emails and calls flooded Jefferson City, with Missourians asking why the legislature had launched an assault on workers’ rights instead of focusing on creating jobs. And in each vote held on anti-worker bills, more and more Republicans broke with Speaker Jones.

Gov. Jay Nixon has said he opposes so-called “right to work” and would presumably veto it if it arrived on his desk. Speaker Jones and his corporate-backed allies are looking into other options, which could include pushing the issue to a 2014 referendum. Missouri voters rejected “right to work” when it came to the ballot in 1978.

Another option being pursued by Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) would be to pass fair bargaining bans in each Missouri county, one by one. She is researching this option “with her personal lawyer.”

No matter how it comes, Missouri extremists will be switching up the language they use. They believe “freedom to work” will work better than “right to work.”

Rehder said she’s made national contacts and done a significant amount of research into “freedom to work,” which she said is an alternative and suggested phrase for “right to work.”

“’Right to work’ has been beat up on so much,” she explained.

No matter what you call it, facts are facts. In states where fair bargaining bans – or “right to work” or “freedom to work” laws – have been passed, wages are lower, fewer people have health insurance, poverty is higher, less money is spent on education, and more workers suffer workplace injuries and fatalities.

Democratic Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) doesn’t think that this issue will fly in Missouri, this year or the next:

“I think our state has shown that blue collar, working class folks support issues that help blue collar, working class folks,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think “right to work” shows that support for those workers. “The fact that those [labor reform bills] can gain the majority of the votes in the chamber is concerning in and of itself.”

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First Responders: Punching In

Americans still like the Postal Service.

California will vote on a domestic workers bill of rights.

Three reasons why state polarization is a big deal.

University of Wisconsin dean: ALEC seeks to wipe us out.

Teachers are first responders – to poverty.

Medicaid expansion is crucial to address mental illness.

Why is the media ignoring the huge miner protests at Peabody Energy?

Finally: Can you believe this was drawn in pencil? (Thanks to Union Ironworkers on Facebook.)