Trumka Details Labor’s Fight Against Fast Track and Bad Trade Deals

In an extensive interview with Vox.com, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlines the labor movement’s fight against Fast Track, the flaws in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, the trade relationship between the United States and China and the shortcomings and negative impact on the middle class of the nation’s trade policy.

Below are excerpts from the interview. Click here for the full interview.

Fast Track

We’re opposed to Fast Track. It’s too important a decision, and it affects too many lives of too many people for too long to be done in the dark and then plunk something out of the dark, a thousand-page treaty, and say, ‘Vote it up or down with no amendments.’ We think that’s the most undemocratic thing you can do. We think that’s dangerous.

TPP

‘It also fails to help create jobs here because it doesn’t have strong rules of origin,’ Trumka says. In other words, Trumka fears that Chinese companies could put factories in a TPP country like Vietnam or ship raw materials to a TPP country for assembly, which would give China the preferential access to U.S. markets provided by the TPP without having to follow the TPP itself.

It [undermines] things like Buy American policies. Say the taxpayers in Minneapolis decide they want to use their money to do something and they want to make it a Minnesota product, [if] that violates this trade agreement, and it can be negated.

Currency Manipulation

[The TPP] fails to address currency manipulation. Currency manipulation…has or will cost us between 2.3 million and 5.8 millionjobs. China leads that group. Twenty countries have been determined to have manipulated their currency. And yet there’s nothing in the agreement to stop it. So all of the benefits they claim we could get from TPP, even if you assume every one of the benefits is right, could be wiped out the next day by a country manipulating its currency, to negate all this.

Trade

He also says that the AFL-CIO is not opposed to all trade liberalization; rather, they’re opposed to ones they consider detrimental to workers’ interests: ‘We’re opposed to bad trade deals, not trade deals.’

Click here for the full interview.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Rana Plaza, 2 Years Later: Garment Workers Under Siege

April 24 is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,130 garment workers. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell reports that in the months after the 2013 tragedy, global outrage spurred much-needed changes, including the closing of dozens of unsafe factories, the adoption of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and, most significantly, the formation and recognition of workers’ unions by the Bangladeshi government.

But in recent months, those freedoms are increasingly rare, say garment workers and union leaders….Despite garment workers’ desire to join a union, they increasingly face barriers to do so, including employer intimidation, threatened or actual physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to registration. Regulators also seem unwilling to penalize employers for unfair labor practices.

In addition, thousands of workers still toil in unsafe factories. In the two years since the fire at Tazreen Fashions, at least 31 workers have died in garment factory fire incidents in Bangladesh, and more than 900 people have been injured (excluding Rana Plaza), according to Solidarity Center data.

Read the full story here, and on Wednesday be sure to check back with the Solidarity Center for stories from the survivors and about the lack of sufficient compensation for survivors and families of those killed.

Read more herehere and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Fast Track Bill Introduced—Join the Drive to Stop Fast Track

Legislation granting Fast Track trade authority to President Barack Obama was introduced in the Senate today. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals. For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs.

Call your senators—855-790-8815—and tell them to say no to Fast Track.

Fast Track would make it easier to ram through complicated trade deals without significant oversight from members of Congress or the public, just a simple “Yes” or “No” vote with no amendments allowed on trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been a leading voice in the Senate against Fast Track, said:

There’s too much at stake for Congress to be rushing through a bill that would allow more NAFTA-style trade deals. Our manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 1994. While we’ve seen an impressive recovery, the more than 629,000 Ohio jobs tied to the auto industry could be at risk if our trade deals don’t protect against competitors that cheat trade law or manipulate currency. Rushing a trade package through Congress without a healthy debate is not only reckless, but it’s a betrayal to middle class and working families in Ohio.

Trumka called on Congress to reject Fast Track and “maintain its constitutional authority and leverage to improve the TPP and other trade deals.” He added:

Trade deals have wide-ranging impacts and shouldn’t be negotiated behind closed doors and then rubber-stamped.  The current Trans-Pacific Partnership deal under discussion would cover 40 percent of the world’s GDP.  A deal this big should be debated in a full and open manner like every other piece of legislation.

On Saturday, a coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, faith, farm, business and other groups is staging a national day of action to stop Fast Track. Click here to find a Fast Track action near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Walmart, Fast-Food Workers Lead Nationwide Fight for $15 Strike

Today, tens of thousands of Walmart workers, fast-food, retail and other low-wage workers are engaged in a massive, nationwide strike in their fight for $15 an hour, consistent full-time hours and the right to join a union.

Lisa Pietro, a two-year Walmart employee from Winter Haven, Fla., who made just $8.95 an hour before Walmart’s recent increase to a minimum of $9 an hour, said:

I’m proud to be part of a growing movement of moms and dads, brothers and sisters like me, who are standing up for better jobs. A company like Walmart, which brings in $16 billion in annual profits, can afford to provide the pay and hours that our families need. The raise we just won at Walmart shows what working people can accomplish when we stand together.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

The voices of Walmart and fast-food workers have shown the power of collective action in standing up to corporate greed and a system that for far too long has only benefited those at the very top.

Since the Black Friday Walmart strikes and the fast-food workers strikes began more than two years ago, the movement for $15 an hour, full-time work and consistent scheduling has grown to include retail workers, home care providers, airport workers, adjunct professors and more and gained support around the globe.

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The growing voice of the workers and support from their communities and many lawmakers has pressured employers like Walmart, McDonald’s and others to raise wages some but not nearly close to $15. Said Trumka:

While some wages have been raised, there is much work to be done, and workers will continue to speak out until wages are fair, conditions are improved and every voice is heard in the workplace.

For more, see #Fightfor15.
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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Bill Would Make 9/11 Survivors Health Care Program Permanent

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

The original legislation passed in 2010, but two key components are set to expire this fall. The bill is named after James Zadroga, a police officer who died in 2006 from respiratory disease attributed to his exposure to the deadly toxins at Ground Zero following the attacks. (See the video above from the Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.)

More than 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath, and more than two-thirds of those have more than one illness. Many are disabled and can no longer work. They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases, including serious pulmonary disease, cancer and more caused by exposure to toxins and carcinogens at Ground Zero.

Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger said:

For almost 14 years, first responders have been dealing with the after effects of the 9/11 attacks. For many, this is a fight that will never end. It is our duty to honor those who worked in the terrible aftermath by making sure that the critical programs authorized by the Zadroga bill are renewed.

The World Trade Center Health Program, which provides health services to people who developed cancers and other illnesses as a result of the recovery and cleanup effort, expires at the end of September. Nearly 71,000 people are in the program and 58,924 of those received treatment in 2014. The measure would make that program permanent.

The bill also would continue the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that provides funds for medical care and treatment to responders who worked at any of the sites that were targeted on 9/11. Said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler:

We can’t and won’t let this law expire. As a country, we owe the heroes of 9/11 the care and support they need and deserve. We must pass this bill to renew and extend the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Studies show that 9/11 workers have gotten certain cancers—including prostate, thyroid and multiple myeloma—at significantly higher rates than the general population. More than 80 New York City Police Department and more than 100 New York City Fire Department personnel have reportedly died from their 9/11-related illnesses since Sept. 11. More police officers have died from their injuries since 9/11 than perished on Sept. 11.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said AFL-CIO state federations will work to secure bipartisan support for the bill.

The labor movement remains committed to ensuring that the people who are suffering as a result of their bravery and determination continue to receive the care and support they deserve.

Click here to read more comments from lawmakers and to learn more about the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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On Equal Pay Day, Mind the Gap, All $431,000 of It

Today, Equal Pay Day, marks the day when women workers close the 2014 pay gap, and that wage gap is huge. Women, on average, earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men’s wages and that adds up to more than $10,800 a year and more than $400,000 over a career.

A new report finds that wage gap is even wider for mothers, especially single mothers and mothers of color, most of whom are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families.

The report, An Unlevel Playing Field: America’s Gender-Based Wage Gap, Binds of Discrimination and a Path Forward, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, finds mothers who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers who work full-time, year-round. Single mothers are paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And African American and Latina mothers suffer the biggest disparities, being paid just 54 cents and 49 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

At a time when women’s wages are essential to families and our economy, the persistence of the gender-based wage gap is doing real and lasting damage to women, families, communities and to our nation. It defies common sense that lawmakers are not doing more to stop gender discrimination in wages.

In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. But since then, Republican lawmakers have blocked votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

That legislation would strengthen penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers’ wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.

The bill was reintroduced last month by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who said:

Equal pay is not just a problem for women, but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, trying to get ahead, trying to achieve the American Dream and are getting a smaller paycheck than they have earned for their hard work.

Last April, President Obama signed two executive orders on equal pay, one that banned retaliation against employees of federal contractors for discussing their wages and another that instructed the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation. While these actions will help federal contractor employees, congressional action is needed to end gender-based pay discrimination for all workers.

Here are some other facts on unequal pay and the wage gap between men and women.

  • If the pay trends of the past five decades remain the same, it will take nearly another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity with men.
  • If women and men received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women and their families would be cut in half from 8.1% to 3.9%.
  • The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among nonunion workers.
  • Union women working full-time earn, on average, 90.6% of what their male peers earn.
  • The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for nonunion workers.
  • Paying women the same wage as their male peers would have added an additional $448 billion to the economy in 2012 or roughly 3% of the country’s GDP.
  • 62% of women who work in the private sector report that discussing pay at work is strongly discouraged or prohibited, making it harder for women to discover if they are missing out on wages they deserve.
  • Requiring employers to disclose employee pay rankings would allow women to know if they are being paid the same wage as comparable workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Indiana Official Resigns over Pence’s Wage-Cut Moves

While Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) was vacationing in Europe last week, a top state official resigned in protest over Pence’s efforts to cut middle-class wages. In his letter of resignation, Port Commissioner David Fagan wrote:

Indiana is ranked 38th in per capita income, and the governor’s solution is to cut wages on good middle-class jobs. What sense does that make?

Pence supports legislation to repeal Indiana’s prevailing wage law, known as the Common Construction Wage. Said Fagan in his letter:

By repealing Common Construction Wage, you will slash wages for Indiana workers, cripple Indiana contractors, starve small businesses and reduce our state’s tax revenue. In addition, you will undermine private-sector training for Indiana’s youth, which directly contrasts your statements in support of additional worker training.

Fagan, a Republican, also points out that the repeal of Indiana’s Common Construction Wage “undermines the free-market wages negotiated in the private sector” and that:

Supporters of the repeal have publicly stated their support for utilizing foreign guest workers in our construction industry. I cannot understand why Indiana’s Republicans have sided with out-of-state and foreign workers. That this is even being considered is a tragedy for our party and our state.

Read more from NWI.com.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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NYU Grad Employees Ratify Historic Contract

New York University graduate employees—members of Graduate Student Organizing Committee UAW Local 2110—successfully capped a struggle that began at the turn of this century when they ratified a five year contract with the university. Lily Defriend, a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department said:

This contract will make a real difference in our lives here at NYU and will raise the bar for private-sector graduate working people nationally.

The 1,200 teaching and research graduate employees ratified the agreement with a 99% vote in favor, making NYU the only private university in the country with a unionized graduate employee workforce.

The agreement makes substantial gains in wages, health care (including a 90% subsidy toward individual coverage and first-time support for dependent coverage), child care benefits and tuition waivers. In addition, it doubles the starting wage to $20 per hour over the life of the five-year agreement for workers at NYU’s Polytechnic School of Engineering, who perform and support cutting-edge research.

After becoming the first group of private-university graduate workers to successfully unionize in 2000, the UAW won a groundbreaking contract at NYU. In 2005, the university withdrew recognition, hiding behind a Bush-era National Labor Relations Board decision stripping graduate employees of the right to collective bargaining.

Undeterred, the workers at NYU fought an eight-year battle for recognition, and the university agreed to recognize the UAW once again, subject to an election conducted by the American Arbitration Association, in which NYU remained neutral. The workers voted 98.4% in favor of being represented by the UAW in December 2013.

Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, said:

They did not back down after being stripped of their bargaining rights in 2005. Their commitment to justice will have a huge impact on the working lives of teaching and research assistants throughout the university. This victory has already inspired other private-sector graduate employees to organize.

The UAW represents more than 45,000 academic workers across the U.S., including graduate employees at the University of Massachusetts, University of Connecticut, University of Washington, University of California and California State University.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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In Ohio, Brown Rallies Workers Against Fast Track

While many of his congressional colleagues have been taking it easy during this two-week Easter–Passover recess, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has been carrying on his longtime fight against Fast Track trade authority and unfair trade deals that cost American jobs.

In Cleveland, during a tour of a Ford plant, Brown said:

Manufacturing jobs are a ticket to the middle class. But we must ensure our auto industry and our workers can compete in the global economy. That means saying no to trade agreements that don’t protect American workers and American companies from unfair trade practices. We can’t fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it means fast-tracking the loss of American jobs.

He has joined the Ohio AFL-CIO in hosting trade forums around the state, including Warren, Toledo, Nashport and Dayton and Tuesday in Zanesville at Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1105. There Brown told union members:

Our trade deals amount to corporate handouts and worker sellouts. While the talent and tenacity of American workers hasn’t changed, their ability to compete has been hamstrung by NAFTA-style trade deals. Trade done right creates prosperity—a leveling the playing field for all companies, strengthening the middle class and lifting workers from poverty. But we cannot allow another trade deal negotiated in secret to shortchange our workers and ship jobs overseas. The last thing we need is another NAFTA.

Ohio AFL-CIO President Tum Burga says that during the past decade, unfair trade deals have cost the Buckeye State 320,000 manufacturing jobs and led to an $18 billion Ohio import/export deficit for 2014. With Brown in Toledo, Burga said:

The proposed ‘Fast Track’ of the TPP represents the same flawed approach to international trade and should be replaced by a new model that focuses on raising wages globally and shared prosperity. Made in America should be more than a slogan, it should be the priority for all economic policy advanced by Congress and the president.

In an op-ed in the Morrow County Sentinel, Brown wrote:

We know that trade done right creates prosperity, and as a progressive, I want trade that provides an on-ramp to the middle class here at home and lifts workers from poverty in America and around the world—not another NAFTA….That’s why we cannot allow a fast track of Trans-Pacific Partnership—or TPP. We don’t need another trade deal negotiated in secret and rushed through the Senate.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Study Finds Union Mines Safer, More Productive Than Nonunion

Once again, a study has shown that unionized coal mines are not only safer places to work than nonunion mines, but that union miners produce more coal. The study, by SNL Energy, found that in 2013 unionized mines in northern and central Appalachia produced about 94,091 tons of coal per injury versus 71,110 in nonunion mines, despite research suggesting that unionized miners are more likely to report injuries that have occurred on the job.

The SNL report notes that its findings follow a 2012 study authored by Stanford University labor regulation expert Alison Morantz and found that unionization is associated with a 13% to 30% drop in traumatic injuries and a 28% to 83% drop in fatalities in data from 1993 to 2010.

When it comes to production, union miners produced about 17% more coal per employee an hour than workers at nonunion mines in 2013 and 16% more last year.

In an article on the study on its website, Phil Smith, a spokesman for the Mine Workers (UMWA), told SNL Energy:

The union was formed 125 years ago by miners seeking to improve their pay and working conditions, including making the mines safer places to work. Those needs still exist today. [SNL Energy's] data demonstrates that union mines are safer mines; others have found similar results.

Both Smith and Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney who specializes in mining laws and coal mine safety, pointed to the protections in a union contract, including the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation and a worker-elected and empowered mine safety committee, as key factors in the better safety records at union mines. Oppegard said:

You work in a nonunion mine, you pretty much do what you’re told to do, including risking life and limb, or else you’re going to lose your job….At a nonunion mine, they don’t have that same cushion to try to resolve issues at the job site.

Read the full story here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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