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Mark Kirk Could Single-Handedly Break The Senate Stalemate on Unemployment Insurance. But He’s Focused on Other Things.

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In January, Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois was one of six Republicans to allow a bill extending unemployment insurance (UI) to proceed in the Senate.

But when the bill was coming up for a cloture vote, Kirk said that he would only vote for it if the costs were offset by spending cuts.

After much negotiation, Democrats and Republicans figured out a solution to pay for extending unemployment insurance. That bill was expected to break the filibuster on February 6, but it fell one vote short. Going back on his promise, had Kirk remained with the filibuster. On Twitter, he said it was because the negotiated offsets were “political gimmicks.”

Let’s get back to gimmicks in a second. First, here’s what’s happening while the Republican-led filibuster of UI remains in place.

The number of Americans without emergency unemployment benefits continues to grow. 1.3 million Americans, including 20,000 recent veterans, lost UI when the benefits first expired last December. Since then, another 400,000 Americans have joined their ranks.

Illinois has an unemployment rate higher than the national average, 8.9 percent as of October. More than 119,000 Illinois residents will lose benefits by the end of next week if UI is not extended. Not surprisingly, polling shows they support a UI extension 63-31.

The same poll showed that 40 percent of respondents say they are less likely to vote for Kirk because of his obstruction of UI.

It’s not clear what Kirk is waiting for. It is clear, however, how he has been spending his time and office resources.

Other than the one tweet, Kirk didn’t issue a press release about his vote. On his official website, there is no information on why he voted for, then twice against, extending unemployment insurance.

But there is an extensive Flash-powered page dedicated to the 11 Olympic athletes who hail from Illinois.

Kirk’s office also posted extensively on all his social media channels for the two week duration of the Sochi games.

Seems like Senator Kirk is plenty familiar with “political gimmicks.”

By April 5, the total number of Americans cut off from emergency unemployment insurance will reach 2.3 million. At any time, Senator Kirk can drop his support for the Republican-led filibuster and allow the bill to proceed on an up-or-down vote. Like he said he would.

Isn’t that the least he can do for 1.7 million job-seekers? Or do unemployed Illinoisans have to be Olympic athletes to get their Senator’s attention?

Tell your Senator to end the games: renew unemployment insurance now.

Photo by juggernautco on Flickr

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It’s a Great Time to Own a Business, and a Terrible Time to Be An Employee

Corporations and corporate CEO’s are making money.

This information likely comes as a surprise to no one, but what is surprising is that, in an economy that still feels pretty weak, corporations are making this much money.

U.S. corporate profits are the highest they’ve been in 60 years, and according to a U.S. economist those profits are linked to ridiculously low hourly wages.

“The strength (in profits) is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages, which are still growing at just a 2% nominal pace. The weakness of wages and the resulting strength of profits are telling signs that the US labor market is still far from full employment,” says Jan Hatzius, U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs.

For all of you visual learners, the charts offer an excellent illustration of exactly how outrageous corporate profits are compared to the low and slow to grow, wages of American workers.

Although many business owners are against raising the minimum wage, there’s evidence to support that raising the wage would actually help businesses by decreasing turnover and increasing productivity.

A few weeks ago, The Gap decided to increase its hourly wage to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015, CEO Glenn Murphy noted that it would deliver a return many times over.

Let’s put an end to the ever growing income gap in this country and Raise the Wage.



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300,000 More New Yorkers Will Be Covered by City Paid Sick Days Law: Punching In

The deficit fell faster in 2014 than any since the end of World War II.

Teachers and teacher advocates call for more accountability for charter schools.

New York City Council votes overwhelmingly to expand paid sick days law.

Expansion means the law covers an additional 300,000 New Yorkers.

2014 will be a big election for voting rights in Ohio.

How Walmart got $150 million in government subsidies.

Yes, Republicans are still filibustering unemployment insurance.

Bottom line of the Scott Walker emails: he is who we thought he was.

Key Quote: “You don’t need a smoking gun email to know who Scott Walker is. You just need to look at his actual record in office.”

Anti-privatization in Minneapolis as city takes back bus shelters from contractor.

Has the American left surrendered? The overdue conversation we need to have.

Must watch: An amazing pro-worker video from Australia.

Finally: Organizing victory! Workers at gas station owned by Tennessee Gov. Haslam’s family join retail union.

The Shameful U.S. Record on Temporary Worker Protections

In the past decade, temporary work arrangements grew steadily in the United States—20% since 2003. In 2013, there were 2,673,800 workers employed in the temp industry, which accounted for 24% of all job growth in the United States during the tepid economic recovery from 2009 to 2012. Often these workers perform the same work as permanent employees for lower wages, little training, no benefits and no promise of security. Unfortunately,according to a recent ProPublica investigation, the United States lags far behind other industrialized countries in labor protections for temporary workers. Of 43 “developed and emerging economies” tracked by the OECD, the United States ranks near the bottom, at 41st, for temporary worker protections.

While temporary work and other forms of independent contracting offer some workers desired flexibility, most temporary workers are caught in a precarious gap in labor protections and lack needed workplace stability. From low-wage maintenance work to highly paid tech jobs, the growth of temporary work has pervaded the labor market. The AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees reports more than 7.7 million self-employed and temporary workers are employed in management, professional and related occupations. Temp workers at Microsoft, for example, have long protested their “permatemp” status at the company, where many have worked for years receiving less pay for the same work as regular employees, with no benefits or paid time off and little hope of moving into regular employment.

On the other end of the wage spectrum, workers often toil in unsafe conditions with little training, as companies outsource entire segments of their blue-collar workforce to staffing firms. Workers who are cheated out of wages or have safety complaints frequently do not know where to turn, as their true employer is masked through numerous subcontracting relationships throughout a supply chain. Some 542 temp workers were fatally injured on the job in 2011; Latino temp workers represented 28% of those deaths.

Immigrant workers are especially susceptible to abuse, as they may be unaware of their labor rights or fear immigration enforcement. Many have reported having to pay fees to fly-by-night staffing firms that charge workers for van transport to unknown job sites. Immigrant workers also frequently access the labor market through international labor recruiters, who have been known to charge high fees, confiscate travel documents, issue threats and commit other forms of abuse that have even resulted in human trafficking.

The growth of temp work arrangements is the product of deliberate corporate practices and policies that have been implemented within the context of privatization, deregulation and flexibilization of labor laws. There are numerous efforts to reverse these trends. The International Labor Organization is examining temporary work this summer as part of an effort to encourage the transition from the informal to formal economy. National governments, too, have made efforts well beyond the United States to combat exploitative temp work arrangements. For example:

  • At least 12 countries have banned companies from hiring temps in dangerous industries or to do hazardous work.
  • Unlike the United States, about three-quarters of the countries tracked by OECD require temp agencies to register or become licensed before they can begin sending out workers.
  • European Union countries mandated that temp workers receive equal pay and working conditions to employees hired directly by the company;
  • Nearly half of the 43 countries in the OECD study restrict the duration of temp assignments, ranging from three months to three years.

In the United States, workers have won promising gains in an uphill battle. Through collective action, taxi workers, day laborers, home care workers and adjunct faculty have improved their working conditions and formed collective representation on the job. At the state level in the United States, workers have pushed lawmakers to pass laws targeting employee misclassification, including laws that assign joint responsibility to temp agencies as employers, or forbid agreements where businesses know the agency does not have sufficient funds for all applicable regulations. At a time when inequality is at the top of the administration’s agenda, federal agencies and lawmakers must make every effort to reflect these good practices and extend worker protections to temp workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Want to Create 5.8 Million New Jobs? Here’s How

If the United States acted forcefully to end currency manipulation by China and other nations—and there is legislation to provide the government the tools to do so—it could create as many as 5.8 million jobs (40% in manufacturing) and reduce the nation’s trade deficit by as much as 72.5%, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Currency manipulation is the largest single cause of the U.S. trade deficit, and the Chinese government is the world’s biggest currency manipulator. It deliberately keeps the value of its currency artificially low and that artificially raises the price of U.S. exports to China and suppresses the price of Chinese imports into the United States. This artificial price advantage is one of many pull factors that encourages U.S. businesses to shut down operations here and manufacture in China instead. Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

U.S. workers can compete with anyone in the world, but they cannot compete successfully on a lopsided playing field. [Currency manipulation] is a major contributing factor in our lopsided trade relationship with China. Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturing companies and workers bear the brunt of these unfair policies.

The EPI report finds that:

  • Eliminating currency manipulation would reduce the U.S. trade deficit by $200 billion in three years under a “low-impact” scenario and $500 billion under a “high-impact scenario.” This would increase annual U.S. GDP by between $288 billion and $720 billion (between 2.0% and 4.9%).
  • The reduction of U.S. trade deficits and expansion of U.S. GDP would create 2.3 million to 5.8 million jobs, reducing the U.S. jobs deficit by between 28.8% and 72.5%.
  • About 40% of the jobs gained would be in manufacturing, which would gain between 891,500 and 2,337,300 jobs. Agriculture also would gain 246,800 to 486,100 jobs, heavily affecting some rural areas.

Read the full EPI report here.

Bipartisan legislation in Congress (H.R. 1267 and S. 1114) would crack down on currency exchange rate manipulation and hold countries that manipulate their currencies accountable. Trumka says:

We call on Congress to fight on the side of American workers and domestic manufacturers and farmers to put an end to currency manipulation now.

While China is the largest currency manipulator, other nations do so, too. Japan, which is one the 12 TPP nations, (China is not involved) has been accused of weakening the value of the yen to benefit its auto industry.

Currently Japan exports some 130 cars to the United States for every car that U.S. automakers export to Japan. One of the major reason for that imbalance is currency manipulation says the UAW.

As a consequence of Japanese government currency intervention, in a market such as the United States, Japanese imports have seen several thousand dollars in effective subsidies while, at the same time, exports from the United States to Japan have seen several thousand dollars in added costs….The impact of these policies undermines American auto exports and American jobs and the investment they support.

Yesterday, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), both sponsors of S. 1114, said that without currency manipulation rules as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and investment agreement and other pending trade agreements, Congress is unlikely to approve the trade bills. Says Brown:

The trade agenda is not moving until currency is part of it.

The Obama administration’s is pushing to have the TPP agreement considered under Fast Track rules in Congress.

Under the Fast Track process, Congress can only vote yes or no on the full agreement. It cannot amend or improve the bill.

Sign the petition to Congress to stop bad Fast Track trade deals over the next four years, including the TPP.

Also, if you haven’t signed a letter for a better TPP, do it here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Silicon Valley Executives Collaborated to Suppress Employee Wages By $3 Billion


A class-action lawsuit has accused several high-profile Silicon Valley CEO’s of suppressing wages, to the tune of $3 billion, through a top-secret agreement to abstain from recruiting each other’s employees.

Tech CEO’s sought to retain talented engineers and keep their wages low by stifling any outside employment opportunities:

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators…

This may come as a surprise to most of us, as the image of a brilliant, innovative, and ostensibly progressive tech CEO toiling away at his latest technological masterpiece in solitude has been burned into our brains.

But this lawsuit is the perfect example of just how vital all employees are to employers, no matter how excellent the CEO might be.

The suit alleges that, based on several uncovered email conversations, Silicon Valley executives mutually agreed to refrain from recruiting each other’s star employees. The executives implicated include Steve Jobs, Intuit’s Bill Campbell, and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

The agreements led to several ‘Do Not Call’ lists, and even prompted Apple’s head of HR to instruct employees to put Google on their ‘hands off’ list.

These interactions aren’t just another offering of the corporate greed; they also shed light on the extremes that executives will go to keep talent in-house.

But if these employees were so valuable, and they clearly were, why not treat them as such? Instead of driving down wages and competition, why wouldn’t these men pay their employees a wage that reflected just how indispensable they were to the organization, and treat them as human beings?

Too easy.

In these times it’s important to remember that no matter where you work, your job is necessary and vital to the organization’s success. And this situation in Silicon Valley is a great example of that.

Photo courtesy of privateidentity for Flickr.

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Chris Christie Distracts from His Scandals In A Super Predictable Way: Punching In

An international perspective on service sector organizing.

A new report on the increasingly unequal states of America.

Reunited: Obama and Boehner meet at the White House to talk trade, immigration.

Paul Krugman to Democrats: it’s okay to talk about inequality.

What’s up with this new Republican tax plan?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under attack again. Help them help you.

Chris Christie distracts from his growing bridge scandal by going after public worker pensions.

Five things you need to know about the Scott Walker emails.

Alan Singer: Only aggressive action will save the labor movement.

Key Quote: “Unions need to have muscle, they need to be willing to strike, they need to be willing to defy unjust laws, they need to welcome new members and not just represent those who hold onto relatively privileged better-paying jobs, and to they need to be more responsive to their members and potential members.”

AFL-CIO focusing “laser-like” on raising wages.

Finally: Arizona will not be sent back to the 1950’s.

Tell Kirk, Other Senators: Support Unemployed Workers, Restore Jobless Benefits

Call your Senators TODAY: 845-809-4509

In the past few weeks, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has shown a lot of love and respect for the 11 Illinois residents who recently competed for the United States at the Winter Olympic Games. Check out his Facebook page.  But, as many people who have left their comments there say, it’s time for Kirk to show some of the same respect and compassion for the state’s more than 99,000 jobless workers who lost their emergency unemployment benefits in December.

Call Kirk at 845-809-4509 if you live in Illinois and tell him the same thing.

You see, like the more than 1.7 million unemployed workers across the country, many jobless Illinois workers are no long receiving unemployment benefits because Republicans in Congress allowed the federal  emergency unemployment benefits program to expire Dec. 31, and Kirk was one of the majority of Republicans who voted against renewing the program in January and again this month.

But, as soon as Thursday, Kirk and other Republicans will have a chance to do the right thing and vote on a bill to restore the emergency unemployment benefits program that provides a lifeline to workers after their state benefits run out—usually 26 weeks, but now less than that in many states, thanks to Republican state lawmakers.

Kirk—who has indicated he might support a restoration—is a key vote, along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.).  If you live in Illinois, Ohio or Indiana, please call Kirk, Portman or Coats today at 845-809-4509 and tell them hundreds of thousands of their constituents and more than 1.7 million Americans need their votes. No matter where you live, please call your senators using the number above and tell them the same thing.  Another 1.9 million Americans will out of benefits by June if the program is not restored.

Here are just a few examples of what Illinois voters are telling Kirk on his Facebook page:

Annie Kiser: You have MANY Republican constituents out of work 26+ weeks. THEY VOTE and your “no” on #EUC will cost you, Mr. Kirk #RENEWUI

Annemarie Purcell Diola: Please push for the extended unemployment benefits as soon as possible. My unemployment ran out the 3rd week of December, where I was approved for 10 weeks of Tier 1 EUC, was only able to collect 1 week of it. I have worked my entire life and followed the rules, but my family is suffering!

Michael Greenberger: And A LOT of veterans were unemployed when you PULLED THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER THEM. Why don’t you support jobless people?

portman et all

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Ohio Republicans and Gov. Kasich Greatly Weaken the Right to Vote

Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives pushed through two voter suppression bills, previously passed by the state Senate, that would reduce early voting and restrict absentee ballot access. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the bills into law Friday night. Supporters claim the bills were necessary to prevent voter fraud and to save public resources. Reality says otherwise.

As has been found in other states, claims of voter fraud are largely baseless and almost certainly not widespread enough to affect the outcome of elections or warrant such restrictive bills that would prevent eligible voters from casting their ballot. AFL-CIO’s Michael Gillis describes the situation in Ohio: “Voter fraud in Ohio has been found to be practically non-existent. Cases of voter fraud investigated represented less than five one-thousandths of 1 percent of the 5.6 million ballots cast in Ohio in the 2012 election. Even then, most of those cases were dismissed.”

Gillis notes that the legislation will make it more difficult for students, seniors, people of color and other constituencies to vote. The Toledo Blade agreed with this assessment when it opposed the bills late last year:

But the bill is a solution in search of a problem, because the “evidence” advocates cite of voting irregularities is more anecdotal than systemic. Eliminating the dual activity will simply make it more cumbersome for new voters to exercise their franchise.

The “saving money” argument also fails to pass a basic logic test. Gillis continues:

And as for the “limited public resources” argument, can we no longer afford the most basic democratic functions of our government? The answer to this question should be obvious, if not to the Ohio GOP. One Republican legislator went as far as to say that opposition to these vote suppression bills is “intellectually lazy and highly offensive.” They pretend to be guardians of the ballot when indeed they are undermining the democratic process and are trampling on the most basic civil right we have as citizens.

The Ohio Voter Rights Coalition goes into greater detail with the flaws of these two bills in a letter that asked Kasich to veto the bills.

For many decades, women and [people of color] fought for the right to equally participate in the franchise. Ohio had been on the right path to continuing to provide access to fair elections. These bills are taking us in the wrong direction, yet you, Governor, can stand up for voters and for democracy by vetoing S.B. 205 and S.B. 238 to prevent the erection of barriers to the ballot box and more importantly the establishment of procedures that undoubtedly will cost qualified voters the right to have their votes counted. We hope we can count on your support to expand, rather than reduce, voter rights.

It’s hard to imagine what Kasich’s real motivations might be in preventing Democratic-leaning voters from casting their ballot. Gillis lays it out:

The irony that the first election that these laws will impact is the Governor’s re-election bid is not lost on Ohioans. A Quinnipiac poll this week showed Governor Kasich polling at just 43 percent and has been losing ground to his challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. Given his shriveling popularity in the state, will the governor have the political courage to stand up for the voting rights of those he intends to govern or will he cynically narrow voting rights in his own political interest? Ohioans are watching and so should all who are interested in a functional and unfettered democracy.

The new laws will be in effect before ballots begin being cast in the 2014 governor’s race.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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