Late Wednesday night, the Wisconsin state Senate voted 17–15 to advance a “right to work” bill that has been widely criticized as harmful to the working families of the state. Thousands rallied outside the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday in opposition to the legislation, as similar laws have been shown to have widespread negative effects in the other states that have passed them. Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.
Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, expressed dismay over Republicans ignoring the will of the people:
Republican senators clearly weren’t there to listen to their constituents or vote in the best interests of all Wisconsinites. With out-of-state special interests calling the shots, Wisconsin citizens get left behind. Right to work is a continuation of the destructive policies of the Scott Walker administration that have cost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale echoed those comments:
Despite hours and hours of testimony on how right to work will lower wages, increase workplace deaths and erode the base of the middle class by crippling the ability of workers to team up and join together through their unions for a strong voice in the workplace, Republican senators rammed right to work legislation through the Senate in a disheartening move to democracy.
Wisconsin’s working families aren’t allowing Walker and his allies to silence them. They will rally again on Saturday at noon to make sure their voices are heard and will be out in force for a scheduled committee meeting on Tuesday and an expected floor vote in the Assembly on Thursday.
State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) summed up the effects of the bill: “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.” UAW member John Drew condemned the legislation as “a political attack on labor, dressed up as an issue of worker freedom. They want to beat us down, brothers and sisters. This is politics, pure and simple.”
Republican leaders couldn’t even convince all of the members of their own party of the merits of the legislation. State Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R) voted against the bill: “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.” He was the only Republican who stood and spoke in support of the legislation. The public wasn’t convinced, either. More than 1,750 Wisconsinites submitted comments or registered to speak against the bill at the hearing. Only 25 were in favor.
Unions representing Wisconsin’s professional athletes also weighed in, opposing right to work. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a strong statement:
The NFL Players Association stands together with the working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against current attacks against their right to stand together as a team.
Devoted food and commercial workers who spend their Sundays servicing our players and fans at Lambeau Field will have their well-being and livelihood jeopardized by right to work. Governor Scott Walker may not value these vital employees but, as union members, we do. We understand how devastating it would be if they lost the ability to have their workplace conditions and wages guaranteed through collective bargaining. We do not have to look any further than our own [collective bargaining agreement] to see that a band of workers, joined together as a union, can overcome decades of poor workplace conditions and drastically improve pensions and benefits.
The Major League Baseball Players Association stands with our brothers and sisters in organized labor and deplores the current attempts in Wisconsin to undermine the collective voices of working people by seeking passage of so-called “right to work” legislation. We are proud to be among the ranks of labor unions that negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for their members, sitting across the table from management as equal parties under the federal law that guarantees the right to union representation. This state legislation is nothing more than an obvious attempt to undermine those rights and that power.
The current bill would impede the ability of working families in Wisconsin to achieve fair collective bargaining agreements with good wages and appropriate on the job protections. “Right to work” is not about freedom, it is about empowering employers at the expense of the employees. Again, we urge a No vote on the current legislation.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state where extremists are pushing right to work legislation in an attempt to silence working families. New Mexico’s legislature is headed down the same destructive path as are several other states.
The news from Wisconsin, during Gov. Scott Walker’s era, is once again bad for working families. The legislature is not only planning to introduce “right to work” legislation this week, it intends to Fast Track it, and Walker said he intends to sign it. Before we get into the reasons why right to work is wrong for Wisconsin (and everywhere else), here are a few steps you can take right now if you care about the future of Wisconsin and its workers.
Public testimony begins Tuesday on the right to work legislation. If you can, attend and speak up.
Attend one of the Madison rallies on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. Learn more.
You can follow the rallies and the story on Twitter with the hashtags: #wipolitics, #righttowork and#wiunion. If you need more information before participating, here are eight reasons why right to work is bad for Wisconsin’s working families. Right to work laws:
1. Make it easier for CEOs to cut health and safety protections for workers. Workers in right to work states are twice as likely to die on the job as workers in states without such laws. Wisconsin already has a higher job fatality rate than the national average. In 2013, 96 workers lost their lives on the job in Wisconsin.
2. Increase risk of on-the-job injury. Wisconsin workers already are at a higher risk of injury at work, with a rate much higher than the national average. In 2013, Wisconsin workers suffered more than 85,200 work-related injuries and illnesses. Employees in foundries, wood products manufacturing, transportation, nursing homes, as well as the police and firefighters, are particularly likely to be hurt at work.
3. Lower wages and health insurance coverage for workers, thus increasing poverty and infant mortality.
4. Decrease investment in education.
5. Undercut the ability of unions to bargain for safety standards and rights stronger than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) standards.
6. Limit the ability of unions to encourage compliance with worker protections, which unions do through collective bargaining agreements, member training and education, and workplace safety and health committees within the unions. Evidence shows that union workplaces have a much stronger enforcement of job safety rules than nonunion workplaces.
7. Weaken the protections for workers who are retaliated against for raising job safety concerns.
8. Make Wisconsin even more unsafe than it already is for workers. Currently, under the federal OSHA law, only 36 inspectors are available to check out 159,000 workplaces, meaning OSHA can only inspect each workplace once every 104 years. Similarly, the state’s penalties for job safety and health violations are too low. In fiscal year 2013, the average penalty for a serious safety violation was only $2,207. For killing a worker, it was only $3,000. Such low figures offer little deterrence.
The effort to lower wages in America is going to reach new heights in Wisconsin this week. Wall Street billionaires and political extremists are joining together to force a vote on right to work legislation, which is wrong for Wisconsin’s hardworking families. This is a blatant attempt to silence workers’ voices to stop us from speaking out about lower wages and mistreatment at work.
In America, we have a strong tradition of having each others’ backs. Right now, workers from throughout Wisconsin and across the country are gathering in Wisconsin to fight back, together. They are using the tool Gov. Walker is most afraid of: their collective voice.
This right to work sham is about much more than unions. It is simply the next step in the billionaire right wing’s attempt to strip our freedoms to bargain with our employers as we see fit, ensure safe workplaces and raise wages across the country. Billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family are engaged in a systematic attempt to dismantle our economy by lowering wages, while lining their pockets with record profits.
During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. Today, we take a look at Augusta Thomas.
Augusta currently is AFGE’s national vice president for women and fair practices. She is a lifelong civil rights activist, honored labor leader and a loving mother and great-great-grandmother.
A native of Kentucky, she moved when she was 13-years-old to Atlanta, where she was a classmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., known then as “Little Martin.” Moving back to Louisville, she graduated from Central Colored High School in Louisville and then attended Clark University in Atlanta and Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in St. Louis.
Thomas joined AFGE in 1966, when she began her career as a nursing assistant at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Louisville. There, she continued her fight for equal rights and was active in the civil rights movement.
As leader in her local union, Thomas served as treasurer, secretary, chief steward, executive vice-president and president. In recognition of her work to promote racial equality and economic development, the commonwealth of Kentucky has declared April 4 as Augusta Thomas Day. AFGE’s 6th District also has developed the Augusta Thomas Humanitarian Award in her honor.
With great energy, dedication and hard work, Thomas keeps advocating for the rights of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and working families. She serves as an inspiration to many of us in these movements.
We will continue with Black History Month labor profiles throughout the month. Don’t forget that you can win one of 100 Black History Month posters by texting the code “BLACK” (for Black History Month) to 235246.
The city of Philadelphia is set to become the 17th city (along with three states) that requires paid sick leave after Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed legislation passed yesterday by the City Council. Philadelphia is the second city, after Tacoma, Wash., to pass paid sick days this year so far. Nutter previously vetoed similar laws because he said the economy couldn’t handle the change during a recession.
Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored the bill, said:
The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most. They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.
The law goes into effect in 90 days, when businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to give workers a paid hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. The sick time can be used for personal illness or that of a family member, or in seeking support after domestic violence or sexual assault. While 200,000 Philadelphia residents will benefit from the new law, it still excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, interns, government employees and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Businesses that already offer comparable or better paid sick leave to their employees will not have to change their rules. Violations of the law can be punished with fines, penalties and restitution.
As Think Progress notes, dire warnings of the negative effects of paid sick leave laws have failed to materialize elsewhere:
Despite the concern from business that paid sick leave requirements will be too costly, the evidence from places that already have them backs up the idea that they won’t be harmful. The vastmajority of employers have come to support these laws, while they haven’thurt local economies and, in fact, many cities haveoutperformed after their laws were enacted.
Not content to just verbally attack working families, as he did in his recent State of the State address, new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has taken action to strip rights from workers. He signed an executive order that prevents public employee unions from collecting fair share fees from nonunion workers. He also has hired a legal team to pursue a federal court ruling that the fees are unconstitutional.
While the law requires public employee unions in Illinois to represent all workers in collective bargaining efforts, fair share fees make sure that nonunion workers pay for that representation. Rauner argues that fair share fees are being used for political activity, but local unions dispute that claim and say that Rauner’s move is “a blatantly illegal abuse of power.”
Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said Rauner’s action was based on “a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”
Writing on Huffington Post, political organizer and strategist Robert Creamer said:
Since unions—and collective bargaining—are the major weapons everyday people have to raise their wages, his assault on unions is a direct attack on the middle class and its future in America.
During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. First up, we take a look at Bayard Rustin.
Rustin served the trade union and civil rights movements as a brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer. In the face of his accomplishments, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten and fired from leadership positions because he was an openly gay man in a severely homophobic era. He conceived the coalition of liberal, labor and religious leaders who supported passage of the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of the 1960s and, as the first executive director of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, he worked closely with the labor movement to ensure African American workers’ rightful place in the House of Labor.
One of Rustin’s most notable moments came when he was tapped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event for which he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Organized during a two-month period, Rustin helped create what would be the largest protest in America’s history at that point. Rustin has been referred to as the “most important civil rights leader you’ve never heard of” and a key mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.
The manual that was handed out by Rustin and other leaders of the march made it clear that economic and workers’ rights were an integral part of the fight for civil rights for African Americans. The list of demands central to the march included a massive job training and placement program with a living wage, a national minimum wage that gave all Americans a decent standard of living an expanded Fair Labor Standards Act and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act that would prohibit discrimination not only by the government, but by employers and unions, too.
“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” —Bayard Rustin
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.
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.
A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.
Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.
Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.
1. The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”
2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.
3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.
4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”
5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”
EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.
At the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Raising Wages last week, President Richard Trumka announced two important new parts of the labor federation’s agenda. This spring, the federation will sponsor Raising Wages summits in four key states. Additionally, the AFL-CIO will organize projects in seven cities to focus on raising wages in those locales.
American workers are beginning to say “enough.” We are beginning to rise up, to come together, to reject the idea that there is nothing we can do about falling wages. We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple—raise the wages of the 90% of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997. Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality—they need more income.
AFL-CIO’s state labor federations in the first four presidential primary states—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina will take place in the spring. These summits will bring together diverse voices to lay out the entire raising wages platform and establish state-based standards of accountability. Trumka talked about the significance of those states: “Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged. That means accountability, and it starts with something we all understand—presidential politics.”
After working with affiliates and community partners, the AFL-CIO identified the 10 cities for raising wages campaigns where they could have the most significant impact. The cities include Atlanta, Columbus, District of Columbia (Metro), St. Louis, Philadelphia, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Houston, Miami, Dallas and San Diego. In each city, the labor movement will stand together with those already at work and bring important energy, ideas and resources to critical battles.
These new campaigns are the beginning of the federation’s efforts to expand the raising wages agenda.