As Congress continues to debate Fast Track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), members of Ohio’s congressional delegation are stepping up and calling for trade policies that are open and transparent and protect things that Ohioans and Americans care about: democracy, jobs, the environment and the Internet. While Fast Track and TPP are being negotiated in secret, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D), Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga are taking their case directly to the people of Ohio. Like most Ohio residents, they want trade policies that keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.
These working family advocates will hold two forums in the coming week. The first is in Warren on Saturday, March 28, and features Brown, Ryan and Burga. The second is in Toledo on Monday, March 30, and features Brown, Kaptur and Burga.
In advance of the events, Burga said:
For too long, our nation’s trade and investment policies have reflected the influence of powerful corporate interests. They protect what’s important to corporate America but do little or nothing to safeguard the rights of workers and the environment here and around the world. They fuel a race to the bottom in living standards. That needs to change. We need policies that support good jobs at home and sustainable development abroad. We need to enforce the laws already on the books and stop blatant abuses by some countries that stack the decks against U.S. workers.
During a stop in South Carolina this week, former Florida Gov. (and potential Republican presidential candidate) Jeb Bush came out in opposition to the federal minimum wage. Although his spokespeople later dialed back the rhetoric, Bush initially said:
We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure–I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface, without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, ‘Yea, everybody’s wages should be up.’ And in the case of Walmart they have raised wages because of supply and demand, and that’s good.
But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education.
Bush is far from the only potential GOP presidential nominee to come out against raising the minimum wage, and several of the leading contenders have expressed opposition to the federal minimum wage’s very existence. It’s almost as if being opposed to making sure workers earn enough to support their families is a litmus test in the lead-up to the Republican primaries. Even those not expressing outright opposition have been spoutinglong-disproven myths about the minimum wage. Here’s what the gang of anti-worker extremists who want to run the country have been saying:
Ben Carson (Maryland): Wrote and op-ed titled: “Obama is wrong that raising minimum wage will fix income inequality.”
Lindsey Graham (South Carolina): “This is an emotional issue. From an economic point of view, if you want to increase the minimum wage, you’re going to displace probably a million people from the economy at a time when we should be hiring people.”
Mike Huckabee (Arkansas): “Raising the minimum wage to $15, or more in some cases, is an issue that you don’t have to declare yourself a socialist to back. It’s becoming more popular, because it sounds so generous and so easy. Being generous with other people’s money is always easy. It’s true that a lot of people on the lower end of the pay scale are having a tough time these days. But in many cases, small business owners who pay the minimum wage for entry level workers are putting in so many hours and taking so little out that they’re lucky to make minimum wage themselves. If they have to double what they’re paying their employees, they’ll have no choice to fire half of them. And that doesn’t really help the workers.”
Bobby Jindal (Louisiana): “I’m not ideologically opposed to ever raising the minimum wage. I just don’t think now is the right moment.”
Sarah Palin (Alaska): “I don’t know, why are you even worried about fast food wages? Well, we believe — an America where minimum wage jobs, they’re not lifetime gigs, they’re stepping stones to sustainable wages. It teaches work ethic.”
Rand Paul (Kentucky): “When you set the minimum wage, it may cause unemployment. The least skilled people in our society have more trouble getting work the higher you make the minimum wage.”
Rick Perry (Texas): Said it’s not “the government’s business” to be setting the minimum wage and that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs.
Marco Rubio (Florida): “I don’t think a minimum wage law works….I want people to make a lot more than $9 — $9 is not enough. The problem is you can’t do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of having the middle class attain more prosperity.”
On Monday, Gallup released a new poll on America’s attitudes toward trade. Before getting too caught up in potential spin regarding the poll, it’s important that anyone interested in the state of public opinion on trade think about a few key points. Here are eight things you should know about the poll and what Americans think about trade-related issues.
1. The poll says little about people’s knowledge and understanding of current trade policy, and more about people’s perceptions about the improving state of the U.S. economy when compared to the Great Recession and related global financial crisis. Gallup explicitly says this: “Gallup has found that perceptions of foreign trade may partly relate to Americans’ confidence in the economy. And as the economy has improved significantly in the past year, it’s likely that public fears about foreign trade have diminished, partly because of Americans’ strengthening views of the U.S. economy.”
2. The poll, which is conducted annually, saw spikes in 2008, with the highest percent seeing trade as a threat to the economy and the lowest percent seeing trade as an opportunity in the poll’s history. The increases in the latest poll are simply a continuation of the trend away from the low point caused by the recession.
3. The poll doesn’t even ask respondents about current trade policy broadly or specifically. It doesn’t mention topics like Fast Track, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, job offshoring, currency, Buy American provisions, etc. It simply asks whether foreign trade is “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports or a threat to the economy from foreign imports.”
4. Other polls have shown a more complex reaction of the public to the topics of trade. A January 2015 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, shows that Americans support trade in general but oppose the current approach to trade (the rules of which are enshrined in the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent deals) that leads to jobs being shipped overseas, creates massive deficits, makes wages stagnant and has contributed to high levels of income inequality.
5. In the Pew Research poll, only 20% of Americans believe that trade policies, as practiced by the United States, have led to job creation. Only 17% think that such policies have increased wages in the United States. Only one-third say that trade has lowered prices for consumers.
6. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from 2014 found that a plurality of Americans would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”
7. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also found that a plurality believed the recent model of globalization has been “bad because it has subjected American companies and employees to unfair competition and cheap labor.”
8. A January 2014 poll by Hart Research Associates and Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that 62% of Americans oppose Fast Tracking the TPP.
Park Hills, Ky., resident and airline pilot Stuart Morrison recently wrote a great op-ed for Cincinnati.com ripping apart the push for “right to work” in his home state by outsiders with an agenda that doesn’t help Kentucky. Take a look.
Next week, Kenton County commissioners intend to vote on a countywide ban on private-sector “agency shop” agreements between unions and employers. Those are labor agreements that require persons who work in organized shops to contribute to the cost of representing them in collective bargaining and contract enforcement. Such clauses are almost uniformly demanded by union members, who resent having to subsidize the representation of employees who choose not to be members….
I appreciate that the commissioner took the time to discuss this matter with me, but I am deeply disturbed that on a significant issue for our citizens, the legal affairs of the county have apparently been outsourced to right-wing advocacy groups. I am equally troubled that the commissioners have not performed any sort of independent investigation on what the economic impact of this new law would be and have not even held hearings on the matter. I recognize that the same anti-union advocacy groups that claim to know Kentucky law better than the state attorney general also produce studies showing the purported benefits to workers of right to work laws, all of which have been discredited. The underlying fact remains that right to work laws are consistently associated with lower family income, lower rates of health insurance coverage and greater dependence on the federal government for assistance.
The Kenton County Commission seems poised to proceed despite the fact that the issue is already the subject of a lawsuit before a federal judge in Louisville following a similar course of action undertaken in Hardin County. I think that before we enact a law it should be accompanied by an independent review of its legality and economic merits by professionals hired by and accountable to those who live here. The fact that this was not done in any meaningful way tells me that the enactment of right to work is not a matter of considered economic or legal policy, but an exercise in raw political payback against constituencies who have chosen not to support the present all-Republican board.
If you’re not sure what Fast Track is, check out the video above where AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains it quite simply. If you need a more in-depth primer, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) provides one. Meanwhile, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) is holding meetings across the country to try to convince members of Congress that Fast Track is wrong for the country. And the more we look at what TPP might turn out to be, we find out that it has elements like Investor-State Dispute Settlement or that it won’t require potential members to comply with international labor rights.
If you think this doesn’t sound like what working families or America’s economy need right now, sign the AFL-CIO’s petition opposing Fast Track.
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.