Union Plus Sponsors $20,000 Student Loan Contest

Union Plus Sponsors $20,000 Student Loan Contest

In its continuing mission to find new ways to serve union members and their families, Union Plus is sponsoring a contest to help three winners pay off a portion of their student loan debt. The Grand Prize winner will receive $10,000 toward their student loan obligations, while there also will be two $5,000 prizes for runners-up.  The contest also will give way other prizes, including courses, consultations and books provided by the Princeton Review.

Eligible entrants can sign up online and enter simply by signing up for program e-mails and mobile alerts. To be eligible to win, entrants must register by Aug. 15, 2014.

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Your Inspiration for Today: 11-Year-Old Asean Johnson

You may have seen a video of him before, but if 11-year-old Asean Johnson can stand up to Rahm Emanuel and school “reformers” like he does in this video from the AFT convention, you can stand up and fight the important battles in your community.

At the Los Angeles convention, he thanked his teachers, his family and his Chicago community for joining together not only to safeguard his schooling and opportunities in life, but also to win access for all students to art, music, libraries and vital school professionals like counselors and nurses. To the cheers of delegates, Asean said:

Now, we must take that fight to every city in America. If we come together, we will win. Let’s march together; let’s fight together; let’s work together. Let’s reclaim the promise of America’s schools together!

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Things You Need to Know About Social Security Disability as Republicans Try to Dismantle It

Earlier today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event about Republican attempts to use Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a way to cut and undercut the whole Social Security system. Rather than sticking with the conventional wisdom that Republicans, the media and even some Democrats cling to, Brown argues that what we should be doing now is not just protecting Social Security and SSDI, we should be expanding the programs.

Here are 13 important facts about SSDI you need to know to counter the right-wing spin:

1. SSDI provides protection for 90% of America’s workers and their families if a life-changing disability or illness stops them from being able to work and bring in enough money.

2. SSDI pays modest benefits, averaging just $1,140 per month, less than most workers make before they qualify for the program.

3. For 80% of beneficiaries, SSDI is the primary or only source of income, and it provides a drastic increase in the quality of life of recipients who might otherwise live in poverty.

4. The eligibility criteria for SSDI are among the strictest in the world and fewer than 40% of applicants are approved.

5. Nearly 20% of beneficiaries die within five years of first obtaining benefits.

6. Nearly 9 million workers with disabilities receive SSDI benefits, including more than 1 million veterans. More than 150,000 spouses and nearly 2 million children also receive benefits.

7. Beneficiaries pay into SSDI as a portion of their Social Security payroll tax. The current tax rate is 6.2% on the first $117,000 of earnings a worker makes.  5.3% goes to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI), the rest goes to the SSDI Trust Fund.

8. Only one-third of private-sector workers has employer-provided long-term disability insurance, and most of those plans often provide less than SSDI. Only 7% of workers who make $12 per hour or less have such insurance. Most private long-term disability insurance plans are too costly for most workers.

9. Most beneficiaries are in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 53.

10. Fewer than 4% of beneficiaries earned more than $10,000 during the year.

11. The United States ranks 30 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of replacement benefit payouts for workers with disabilities.

12. A temporary reallocation of how the 6.2% payroll tax is divided between SSDI and OASI would ensure that both trust funds would be able to remain fully solvent until 2033 and would alleviate the shortage in SSDI funds caused by demographic trends.

13. Beneficiaries face a wide range of significant disabilities, with many having multiple impairments, which include:

  • 31.8% have a “primary diagnosis” of a mental impairment, including 4.2% with intellectual disabilities and 27.6% with other types of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
  • 29.8% have a musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorder.
  • 8.7% have a cardiovascular condition such as chronic heart failure.
  • 9.3% have a disorder of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, or a sensory impairment such as deafness or blindness.
  • 20.4% include workers living with cancers; infectious diseases; injuries; genitourinary impairments such as end stage renal disease; congenital disorders; metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes; diseases of the respiratory system; and diseases of other body systems

Watch the entire event with Sen. Brown and a distinguished panel of experts on Social Security and SSDI. You also can read CAP’s full report on SSDI.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Pittsburgh Adjunct Faculty Votes to Join USW

Pittsburgh Adjunct Faculty Votes to Join USW

Part-time professors at Pittsburgh’s Point Park University have voted to join the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers (AFA-USW). The votes were counted this morning by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The educators filed a petition with the NLRB in April and a mail ballot election was held for the 314 eligible instructors. The Point Park faculty are the second group of adjuncts to vote to join AFA-USW, after Duquesne University faculty voted for the union in the spring of 2012. The Point Park instructors cited similar issues as the Duquesne faculty, including stagnating wages, lack of benefits, little job security and inadequate office space and other tools to provide students with quality education.

USW President Leo W. Gerard called upon the college to engage the adjuncts fairly:

The adjunct instructors have spoken very clearly with this vote. Now it’s time for the Point Park administration to work with them to craft a fair collective bargaining agreement that provides the faculty with the benefits and basic protections that all workers deserve.

Sharon Brady, who has taught theater arts at Point Park for more than a decade, echoed Gerard:

I am looking forward to working with the administration, with the support of the USW, to enhance both the adjuncts’ experience and their effectiveness for the students they serve.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Unions Celebrate LGBTQ Progress; Look Toward Continuing Challenges

In celebration of LGBTQ Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO and Pride At Work hosted a panel discussion Monday that surveyed efforts by various unions in advancing LGBTQ rights and discussed ongoing challenges that unions face in advancing the rights of LGBTQ workers. In particular, panel participants talked about the need of unions to become more inclusive, to increase efforts to protect transgender workers and to fight for state laws that prevent employers from firing workers for their sexual orientation or gender expression.

The panel was introduced by Carmen Berkley, AFL-CIO’s director of civil, human and women’s rights; moderated by Peggy Shorey, AFL-CIO’s director of state government relations and deputy director of government affairs; and included Shane Larson, legislative director for the Communications Workers of America (CWA); Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Tim Schlittner, assistant communications director for politics for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and Caniesha Washington, a program specialist in the women’s and fair practices department for AFGE.

Nipper said that while “the rate of progress now is extraordinary,” many activists have been working on these issues for 40 years, so while it’s good to see some of the recent changes, “we still have a lot more progress to make.” She noted that getting married is such a fundamental part of our culture that everyone should be able to marry.

She also noted that very few protections are in place for transgender Americans, even things as fundamental as obtaining simple documents such as birth certificates. Nipper, who is an ordained interfaith minister, said one of the biggest barriers we still face is the use of religious beliefs to discriminate even though there is nothing in religious teachings that call for the kinds of discrimination conservatives are attempting to impose.

Larson made the key point that it is still legal in many states to be fired for who you love, even in states where marriage equality exists. He noted that in most states, the strongest protection an LGBT worker can have against such discrimination is a union contract.

It is the responsibility of union leaders and activists to educate union members about LGBTQ issues, Washington said.

Schlittner said that it’s heartwarming to see how far we’ve come, noting the entire city block of labor unions marching in the World Pride Parade in Toronto last week, but that we must combine labor issues and LGBT issues as part of the broader movement and that while we stand on the shoulders of giants who did much work before us, we have a responsibility to finish that work. Change will start, he said, organically at the local level, but as the groundswell grows, leadership will hear the voices of the people and progress will follow.

Here are some tweets from the event:

Other labor organizations in attendance at the event included: Electrical Workers (IBEW), AFTWorking America, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), Freedom to Marry and AFSCME.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Students Call on The North Face and REI to Protect the Workers It Profits From

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and interns from Union Summer took action at a Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) store in Rockville, Md., last weekend to protest the retailer’s association with The North Face, a company that uses sweatshop labor in Bangladesh to produce its products. Nearly 2,000 workers in the factories in Bangladesh that North Face and other companies use have died in recent years because of unsafe workplace conditions. Watch the video to see the students in action.

Of particular note is an exchange in the middle of the video between one of the students and an REI employee who asks what the protests are about. She responds eloquently: “When you do business with people that disenfranchise people worldwide, then what does that say about your brand?”

UnionSummer2014InternsREIAction

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Low-Wage Villain of the Week: Pharrell

Low-Wage-Villain-of-the-Week-Pharrell_medium

In our new regular feature, we’ll be taking a look at the villains who are doing their best to prevent the United States from raising wages for all or some Americans. We’re going to try to take a look at more than just the usual suspects in these posts, and we’ll probably stay away from government officials to give you a look at other key players who are part of the problem.

This week, our Low-Wage Villain of the Week is Pharrell, the ridiculously popular singer of songs such as “Happy” and “Get Lucky” and producer of hits like last year’s Robin Thicke smash “Blurred Lines.” Why is the inspiring singer this week’s villain? For not catching the irony, as Gawker puts it, of singing the song “Happy” to a Walmart shareholders meeting and having the lack of awareness of what the lives of Walmart workers are like when he said, “Put your hands together for Walmart, guys, for making the world a happier place.”

We’re sure that Pharrell is a really nice guy and that he’s only showing up for a Walmart shareholders’ performance because he doesn’t know that the nation’s largest retailer, owned by the country’s richest family, pays many of its workers such atrocious wages and benefits that they receive public assistance. He probably doesn’t know that a Walmart contractor just settled to pay $21 million for wage theft or the federal government is prosecuting Walmart for illegally firing workers who went on strike to protest retaliation. Certainly, he can’t be aware that the company’s executives are taking home hundreds of millions in compensation while the average worker makes less than $25,000 a year.

There’s no way Pharrell would be “happy” to perform for such a company if he knew the full scope of the problem, but since he hasn’t learned that yet and is helping celebrate a company that makes so many working families unhappy, he’s the Low-Wage Villain of the Week.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.

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On Thursday, Let’s Talk About Taxpayers Subsidizing Walmart

On Thursday, Let's Talk About Taxpayers Subsidizing Walmart

As part of the ongoing Upworthy series, Workonomics, there will be an UpChat this Thursday to discuss how Walmart’s low wages mean that taxpayers end up subsidizing those workers to the tune of $6,000 per employee each year. Wages and benefits are so low for the country’s largest employer that many of the company’s workers are forced to take part in Medicaid, housing assistance, child care subsidies, food stamps and other government lifelines. Meanwhile, the Walton family, who owns the company, has more wealth than the bottom 40% of the country combined.

All you need to participate this Thursday, June 5, at 2 p.m. EDT is a Twitter account. Learn more details on how to participate in the UpChat and find the conversation on Twitter by looking up the hashtags #UpChat and #WalmartEconomy.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The State of America’s Deadly Jobs, in 9 Charts

The State of America's Deadly Jobs, in 9 Charts

At The Huffington Post, Alissa Scheller has an article that includes nine charts that show very clearly the key takeaways from the AFL-CIO’s recent Death on the Job report.  These charts explore the issue of who the 4,600 who die on the job each year are and what is contributing to their deaths.

OccupationalFatalities1_1

OccupationalFatalities2

OccupationalFatalities4_1

OccupationalFatalities5

OccupationalFatalities6

OccupationalFatalities7

OccupationalFatalities8

OccupationalFatalities9

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Denver SuperShuttle Drivers Oppose 30% Pay Cut

Denver SuperShuttle drivers.

Airport drivers who work for SuperShuttle in Denver are fighting back against the threat of reduced wages and lost jobs. The long battle began 5 years ago when drivers attempted to organize for a voice on the job with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) after the company hired new drivers and reduced pay for existing employees. The situation recently heated up as the drivers say the company stopped bargaining with them and imposed a new contract that cuts wages by 30% and forces them to reapply for their jobs.

SuperShuttle is owned by a French multinational corporation, Transdev, and the company has reportedly hired a lawyer with expertise in “union avoidance.” This is just the latest broadside in a drawn-out battle. In 2011, after a long process before a vote could even be held, 95% of the drivers voted to join CWA. Workers reported that SuperShuttle retaliated against pro-union employees in 2012 as negotiations began. A “final offer” from SuperShuttle was rejected by 93% of the drivers, and the company imposed a contract that is being challenged before the National Labor Relations Board as a violation of federal law. SuperShuttle’s most recent response is imposing the new contract with the 30% wage cuts.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said:

I recently had the opportunity to meet with these drivers in Denver. They are proud, hardworking fellow immigrants. We will not let this injustice go. The AFL-CIO is going to stand with and fight with these workers for justice.

The drivers are speaking out against the new contract.  Noureddine Berezqi, who has been with SuperShuttle for 16 years, said: “I worry about my fellow drivers who now qualify for food stamps. Under this new contract, I couldn’t even support myself, let alone my wife if she was still in school.”  Abdel Hmami, with 9 years with the company, added:  “Before [the new contract] we had peace of mind. Now I have to hustle at two jobs to earn what I did before.”  Mohamed Hllouz, a 5-year employee, also is considering more work:  “I’ve seen my income cut by 50% under this contract, especially this time of year because it’s busier. I’m thinking about getting a second job now.”

Supporters of the shuttle drivers can sign a CWA-sponsored petition on their behalf.  You can also follow the ongoing campaign on Facebook.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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