Thanks to what Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller calls a “historic, robust bipartisan effort,” the Texas Legislature approved on Monday a “Buy American” provision for water projects that establishes a preference for iron, steel and manufactured goods produced in the United States. Says Moeller:
For the first time in memory, Texas, under this legislation, will give strong priority to American goods and products in the course of major construction projects. The Texas Legislature deserves high commendation from working families for sending a message that buying American creates jobs. This bill will benefit our economy.
The Buy American provision included a major water development bill (H.B. 4) and includes a requirement that iron and steel products and manufactured goods used in the project be produced in the United States. The bill received overwhelming support, passing 141-4 in the House and 30-1 in the Senate.
Earlier in the session lawmakers approved a “Buy Texan, Buy American” bill that applies to state purchases of manufactured goods. Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills says both bills ”have the potential to create jobs in Texas and in the U.S.”
The labor movement has always been about good jobs. In a legislative session that had the look of potential disaster on several fronts at the start, seeing two “Buy American” ideas succeed in bipartisan fashion is a signal accomplishment that is at the core of what we do.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is expected to sign the bill.
While rescue operations continue in Moore, Okla., after one of the worst and deadliest tornadoes on record that has claimed more than 50 lives, with the toll expected to climb, relief efforts are being organized. The Oklahoma State AFL-CIO and central labor council community service liaisons are working through the United Way.
Relief efforts are in their early stages and the United Way of Central Oklahoma has activated its disaster relief fund. Information on the fund can be found at www.unitedwayokc.org. Donations may be made through their website or by mail to United Way of Central Oklahoma, P.O. Box 837, Oklahoma City, OK 73101, with notation for May Tornado Relief.
Emergency officials are urging people to stay away from the devastated area so as to not interfere with the rescue efforts.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate backers and extremist Missouri lawmakers may have won the first round in their drive to silence working people with a paycheck deception bill, when the House gave it final approval (86-69) earlier this week.
But thanks to a strong mobilization by Missouri working families and their unions and allies, the close vote—that included several Republicans who voted against the bill—means that Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) expected veto cannot be overridden. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override.
Paycheck deception laws, like the one proposed in Missouri, create burdensome restrictions that interfere with union members’ rights to participate in the political and legislative process. These laws also weaken the ability of working people to advance working-family issues such as legislation that would create jobs and stop job outsourcing.
After the bill’s passage, Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, told reporters:
This bill is all politics. Not one Missouri worker testified in favor of S.B. 29, and that’s because this bill has nothing to do with helping working people. Public workers in this state have faced an uphill fight for collective bargaining rights and are 50 in the nation in pay.
In fact, dozens of Show-Me State workers created a Tumblr blog, Working Voices, and recorded video messages speaking out against paycheck deception. Union, community and faith activists were a major presence at the state Capitol in Jefferson City during hearings and votes and helped shine a spotlight on the anti-workers’ legislation through actions in several cities and towns.
Bradley Harmon, the president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6355, said:
This law is about protecting right-wing extremists and their corporate buddies, not about protecting anyone’s paycheck. That’s why we call it ‘paycheck deception.’
New York City workers will receive, starting next year, five paid sick days a year to care for themselves or an ill family member under a measure the New York City Council passed (45-3) this afternoon. The vote culminates a four-year effort by a powerful coalition of workers, unions and community groups.
At a press conference before the historic vote, Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, said:
This vote marks a big step in the right direction toward providing paid sick time to workers in our city. I commend the many advocates who have fought so hard to improve the lives of workers and their families through this bill. As this legislation is voted upon, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting and improving the basic rights of all workers here in New York City.
The issue had been stalled in the City Council, but in late March the New York City Campaign for Paid Sick Days, a broad coalition of low-wage workers, women’s rights advocates, health care providers, small business owners, labor unions and community organizations, reached an agreement with Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn to bring the paid sick leave measure to a vote.
After the vote, MomsRising Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said:
It’s been a long fight, but today the New York City Council heeded the call of New York families and passed a bill that would allow more than a million New Yorkers to earn paid time off to use when they are sick or to take care of a sick child, spouse or parent.
She challenged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to “stand up to corporate lobbyists, listen to the people who elected him and sign this important bill.”
Bloomberg has said he will veto the legislation. But the bill passed with a veto-proof margin.
The new paid sick leave bill requires firms with 20 or more workers to provide five paid sick days beginning in 2014 and, 18 months later, it would cover companies with 15 or more workers. About 1 million New York City workers currently have no paid sick leave.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more than 40 million people in America work in jobs where they have no access to paid sick days. In addition to the potential loss of wages and jobs for working families, the lack of paid sick days forces many people to go to work when they are contagious and get co-workers and customers sick. No paid sick time also decreases productivity for workers who show up unable to perform to their normal level of ability. Paid time is especially important for low-wage workers who cannot afford basic necessities when they miss work because they don’t have paid sick leave.
In March, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would give workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members, among other uses.
Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have implemented paid sick leave requirements, and campaigns or legislative initiatives are under way in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Orange County (Fla.), Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Vermont, Washington State and Wisconsin.
Last week, Walmart said it would speed up its plan to hire returning military veterans that it had announced in January. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Walmart’s latest move “is more about public relations than honoring our heroes.”
We owe it to our returning veterans to make sure they are treated as the heroes they are, rather than as symbols used to ‘greenwash’ Walmart’s eroding brand. After facing enemies abroad, is an $8.81 an hour part-time job the best we can offer returning veterans?
The joint effort known as the “Oregon Organizing Project” has helped more than 3,000 Oregon workers win a voice on the job in the past several months. In the most recent campaign, several Oregon unions pitched in and worked together to help more than 300 Head Start workers at Mount Hood Community College who wanted to form a union to address serious workplace concerns.
Monday night in Portland, those workers took the first official step in winning that union when they filed a petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to recognize the Oregon State Employees Association (OSEA)/AFT as their union.
The efforts include not just union organizers, but rank-and-file union members who share their experiences and explain how union membership has benefited their co-workers and their families.
The Mount Hood campaign was formed around such issues as greater job security, having a voice in day-to-day operations and crucial budget decisions, equitable health care for part-time workers and proper job training.
The astounding diversity of the Head Start employees required literature and outreach in several languages, including English, Spanish and Russian. AFT organizer Lesly Salinas says her own bicultural experience helped her understand the perspective of a Head Start employee who experiences what Salinas calls “two different ways of being.”
“We found other ways to relate,” says Salinas. “I don’t think there was a big cultural divide. They’re just a big, big family and they treat each other with respect.”
In Oregon, no election is necessary if more than 50% of employees in a proposed bargaining unit sign a union authorization card as the Head Start workers did. The ERB could certify the petition sometime in May.
In 2011, the West Fertilizer Co. filed an emergency response plan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that said there was no risk of fire or explosion, despite the fact that as much as 54,000 pounds of flammable and toxic anhydrous ammonia could be stored on the site.
In addition, several other federal and state agencies had pieces of the regulatory responsibility to protect the workers and community. The plant was surrounded by homes, a senior citizen housing project and a nearby school. But as Bryce Covert of Think Progress writes:
Many of these agencies have previously cited and/or fined the company. But they aren’t required to coordinate with each other, and small distributors like the one that exploded are part of a system that focuses more on larger plants.
While those state and federal agencies may inspect certain segments of a plant’s operations—emissions, for example—OSHA is the agency with the broadest mandate and authority to inspect a plant’s entire operations, enforce safety and health laws and, if need be, shut it down. But as the 2012 AFL-CIO report Death on the Job notes, OSHA is so understaffed and underfunded that federal inspectors can inspect each workplace on average of one each 131 years.
There are some 2,200 OSHA inspectors for the country’s 8 million workplaces and 130 million workers. In Texas, OSHA conducted 4,448 inspections in the past fiscal year, a pace that would mean it would visit every workplace in 126 years, according to Death on the Job.
In addition, says AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario, the West Fertilizer plant had just seven employees and “these kind of workplaces are not typically inspected by OSHA.”
What people don’t understand is how limited resources are to oversee workplace safety and health.
BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director David Foster calls the 35-year gap, since the last inspection at the West Fertilizer plant, “a stunning indictment” of OSHA’s underfunding.
While the Obama administration has increased funding for OSHA after nearly a decade of cuts under the Bush administration, the Republican sequester now in place “means fewer inspectors to monitor facilities like the West Fertilizer Company,” says Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen.
Small budgets also make it even harder for the agency to issue new safety standards. The agency’s budget is similar to what it was several decades ago, but the size of the economy—and the number and complexity of workplaces to inspect—has grown tremendously.
With adequate funding for more OSHA inspectors, more potentially dangerous sites— like this fertilizer manufacturing plant—can be inspected and hazards abated.
But while workplace safety advocates have pushed for stronger health and safety standards—including chemical safety standards for facilities such as West Fertilizer, Covert writes:
Even with all of the evidence that the plant fell through a variety of regulatory cracks, an industry-backed bill with ties to the Koch brothers with the support of 11 congressmen would reduce the EPA’s powers to regulate major chemical sites.
Members of Fire Fighters (IAFF) locals are part of the emergency response team on the scene in West, Texas, following last night’s massive explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed as many as 15 people, injured 160 and left many missing, including a member of Dallas IAFF Local 58, who lives in West. IAFF sends us this report.
Hazmat teams from IAFF Local 478 in Waco, Texas, and IAFF Local 2505 in Killeen, Texas, and other emergency service personnel are responding to the scene of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, which has killed as many as 15 people, including several firefighters, according to reports.
IAFF 11th District Vice President Sandy McGhee is in contact with Local 478, the IAFF affiliate closest to the blast. He says, “Local 478 President Steve Tull reports that none of our members have been hurt as a result of the explosion, although their homes may be damaged.”
However, Local 58 reports that 30-year Capt. Kenny Harris, who lives in West, is missing. The IAFF and its affiliates continue to contact members in the area of the blast in hopes of accounting for all.
Hazmat teams have been dispatched, and firefighters are assessing conditions and addressing safety concerns.
IAFF President Harold Schaitberger says:
Our members are doing what they do best and are on scene making calm out of chaos by assisting their neighboring community. This is another situation where this country is counting on our first responders to be there, and our members never disappoint—they respond no matter the circumstances.
“The severity of the damage remains unclear,” says Texas State Association of Fire Fighters President Guy Turner. “We won’t have a clear picture until the entire scene has been swept by emergency personnel.”
The explosion occurred around 8:00 p.m. on April 17, leveling a four-block area around the West Fertilizer Company. U.S. intelligence officials say that, so far, there is no indication that this was a terrorist event. However, nothing will be ruled out until the investigation is complete.
Dozens of homes are damaged or destroyed, some belonging to IAFF members.
With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour and an increase facing stiff opposition from congressional Republicans, coalitions of union, community, faith and other groups are mobilizing to win increases in state and local minimum wage levels. Here’s a look at some recent wins and campaigns where AFL-CIO state federations and central labor councils are playing big roles.
Raising the minimum wage will make a real difference in the lives of workers, many of whom are adults working full-time, and many of whom have families to support.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour will benefit more than 1.5 million New York workers—more than one in five workers in New York. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that increasing New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour will generate more than $1.1 billion in new economic activity, supporting the creation of 10,200 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand.
San Jose, Calif., recently increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour after a campaign that united the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and San Jose Downtown Association in winning a ballot measure to boost the city’s minimum wage.
Meanwhile in Hawaii, the state House passed legislation to raise the Aloha State’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2017 in four steps. The state Senate is expected to vote on the bill next month.
In Maine last week, the state House also voted to boost the state’s minimum wage, from the current $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016 in in three steps. The bill also protects the wage from losing its value inflation by indexing it to inflation. The bill awaits state Senate action.
A bill to increase the Minnesota minimum wage to $10.55 an hour over three years is making it way through the House. It already has been approved by three committees and further action is expected later in the spring. It also is indexed against inflation. The bill is a key part of the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Agenda for Dignity and Middle Class Fairness.
Looking down the road, New Jersey voters will decide this fall on a ballot measure to raise the Garden State’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and index it against inflation. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO plans a major effort around the measure. In January, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a minimum wage bill.
There are also campaigns or legislation under way to increase the minimum wage in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico and Rhode Island.
Did you know that the CEOs of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, the corporate front group that wants to cut Social Security and Medicare and lower corporate taxes, have parked more than $418 billion of untaxed corporate profits overseas? Overall it is estimated that U.S. corporations have as much as $1.9 trillion sheltered overseas. That would make a nice down payment on fixing the debt.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka notes that since 1982, the CEO versus worker pay gap has jumped from 42 times more than the average rank-and-file worker to 2012’s record 354 times greater. In real dollars, a CEO of a Standard and Poor’s 500 Index company averaged $12.3 million a year in total compensation, while the average rank-and-file worker earned $36,654. Says Trumka:
Runaway CEO pay is fueling economic inequality in the U.S. and undermining our shared prosperity. In addition, high levels of CEO pay can encourage excessive risk by CEOs, which hurts the long-term prospects of the companies they run.
PayWatch also unveils several new features this year, including:
As in past years, visitors to PayWatch can compare their pay and benefit package to that of a CEO, search the CEO pay database and take action to rein-in CEO pay.
Here’s a closer look.
Fix the Debt
Behind Fix the Debt are more than 80 of the nation’s most powerful chief executive officers. This group says it wants to lower the deficit by “reforming” Medicare and Medicaid, “strengthening” Social Security and passing “comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform” that “lowers rates.” Translation: cut workers’ retirement security to pay for tax cuts for rich people and corporate America.
The group claims U.S. corporations are overtaxed and that’s why U.S. firms have sheltered as much as $1.9 trillion offshore. It also has estimated that 63 companies whose CEOs are members of Fix the Debt have accumulated $418 billion in overseas cash. Keeping this money overseas deprived the U.S. government of an estimated $134 billion in tax revenue, adding to—rather than cutting—the country’s deficit.
BTW on corporate taxes? Corporate taxes fell from 26.4% of total tax revenue in 1950 to just 7.4% of total tax revenue in 2010. The Washington Post found that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average routinely paid up to 50% of their worldwide profits in federal taxes. Today, most of these companies pay less than half that rate.
The Business Roundtable, which represents more than 100 CEOs of the nation’s blue-chip companies, wants to increase the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to 70. Under current law, the retirement age for collecting full Social Security benefits will rise to 67 for those born after 1959 from 65, where it’s at presently. The current eligibility age for Medicare is 65. On top of that the group wants to cut Social Security benefits by changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated—known as chained CPI.
While seniors under the Business Roundtable proposals will work longer, pay more for health care and earn less in retirement, Business Roundtable CEOs are well prepared for retirement. On average, the CEOs on the Business Roundtable’s executive committee have accumulated more than $35 million in pension and deferred compensation benefits. In contrast, 57% of America’s workers have less than $25,000 in savings for their own retirement.
The AFL-CIO’s Mutual Fund Votes Survey examines the votes cast by 78 of the largest mutual fund families on executive compensation at the public companies they are invested in. Mutual funds own more than one-fifth of all shares in U.S. public companies, giving them a great deal of influence in determining executive pay at these companies.
Each fund received a letter grade (A to F) for votes on shareholders’ proposals to reform executive compensation, from pay to golden parachutes and more; on executive compensation plans firms submit for shareholder votes; and say-on-pay votes that are advisory resolutions on executive compensation that are submitted for shareholder approval at company annual meetings.
Five mutual funds received an overall A grade for their executive pay actions, seven flunked every test.
Not only do U.S. CEOs make a lot more money than their own employees (354 times more) but they also make far more than CEOs of comparably sized companies in other developed countries. The AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch interactive map lets you click on each country to compare.