Trumka: Yes, You Should Ask for a Raise

This post originally appeared in the U.S. News & World Report.

In 2015, nearly 5 million American workers might get a pay raise. By joining together to ask for one. Through a union.

Minimum wage hikes, overtime expansion, paid sick leave and other policy improvements are important to raise wages in America. But the best way for workers to get a raise is by asking for one with a collective voice. That’s what workers do—bargain together in unions to improve our lives.

And this is an exceptional moment for raising wages through collective bargaining. More new contracts will be bargained by unions and employers in 2015 than at any other point in modern American labor history.

Autoworkers in Michigan, public workers in Illinois and New Jersey, communication workers at AT&T and Verizon, clerks at Kroger and Foodtown, postal workers, employees of Disneyland and others will negotiate wages and benefits. Government will not dictate the outcome. Workers expressing their collective voice will sit down with management and decide on a fair allocation of the rising profits resulting from the recovery.

Five million workers asking for a raise? Yeah, and it’s about time. All U.S. workers should ask for more. Wages have been stagnant for over a decade. In fact, between 1997 and 2012, the income of those in the bottom 90 percent fell by $2,868, even as workers’ productivity rose. Current data tell the same story. The last two months point to economic recovery and robust job growth, but with virtually no upward effect on wages.

What we are seeing is wage theft on a grand, macroeconomic scale. Workers feel deep frustration in the face of the relentless disparity between productivity and wages. I know, because that’s what they tell me. In every industry, in every state, at every hourly wage level. But workers don’t need any more economic analysis; we want solutions.

That’s why collective bargaining is so important in 2015 and long term. First, income inequality is not just a low-wage worker problem; falling wages are a fact for workers at every pay level up to the top 10 percent. Second, collective bargaining is the primary way to address wage stagnation across the whole economy. Income inequality is not a mysterious phenomenon; it results from the economic rules we have created. It can be solved by changing those rules.

And that solution must recognize the precarious position of workers acting alone. Again, today’s data support this assertion. A January story in The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey of U.S. workers that found while only 8 percent were satisfied with their pay, fewer than half had asked for a raise. The Journal concluded, “When it comes to pay, people are afraid to ask for more.”

Workers should not be afraid to demand what we have earned. Unions and collective bargaining are critical to righting this imbalance. Historically, when unions are strong, wages rise in proportion to profit. And it is not only union members who benefit; there is a spillover effect lifting the pay of all workers. From 1935, when the National Labor Relation Act was passed, to 1980, almost 70 percent of income growth benefited the bottom 90 percent and only 7.1 percent went to the top 1 percent.

Collective bargaining is ground zero in the debate about raising wages in America. It should be front and center as Congress considers policy and as presidential candidates announce agendas. Moreover, the results will illuminate the larger issue underpinning chronic wage stagnation: that vibrant worker organizations are key to restoring the balance of economic power in our country.

Even workers who are not yet represented by a union should be encouraged to speak up, especially with a collective voice. No worker should be afraid to ask for a raise, and federal law protects that right. Everyone who works should ask for a raise in 2015. We deserve it, and the health of our economy depends on it.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Years After 9/11, Honor the Victims, Help Those Still Suffering

IAFF photo illustration

Today we mark the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11. As we honor the memories of the lives that were lost that day, we also should remember the thousands of people who are still suffering.

More than 100,000 rescue and recovery workers—including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, building and construction trades workers and transit workers—and hundreds of thousands of other workers and residents near Ground Zero were exposed to a toxic mix of dust and fumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Now more than 30,000 responders are sick and many have died from respiratory diseases and other health problems.

The AFL-CIO is a longtime advocate of the World Trade Center Health Program and supported the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed in 2010 and provided medical care and compensation to the victims. The law, which expires after five years, needs to be extended and has garnered bipartisan support to achieve that goal. This year, in remembrance of all who lost their lives on 9/11 and in honor of the brave responders who are still suffering, we ask you to contact your member of Congress and urge them to support the 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Let’s Call ‘Corporate Inversion’ for What It Is: A Gaping, Unpatriotic Tax Loophole

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post

In 2004, Congress enacted a law to prevent “corporate inversions” in which corporations reincorporate in a foreign country to avoid paying U.S. taxes, but a gaping loophole allows corporations to get around this law by merging with a foreign company.

Simply put, it allows corporations to avoid paying taxes when they “renounce their U.S. citizenship” and change their corporate address to a foreign country.

In recent months, several large corporations have announced plans to exploit this loophole, with minimal change in their business operations, to avoid paying taxes. This wave of “corporate inversions” threatens to hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base.

One striking example is Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, which may use an upcoming acquisition to become a foreign company in order to dodge more than $4 billion in taxes over five years. Walgreens is talking about abandoning America despite its reliance on the U.S. government — and U.S. taxpayers — for a quarter of its revenue paid for by the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It’s time for Congress to close the loophole and end this outrageous practice.

Last week, I was encouraged to see Congress finally begin to hold hearings and to hear President Barack Obama double down on his support. Under the president’s leadership, the administration is taking the right approach and has proposed solutions to the problem.

This week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in the Washington Post was right to suggest Congress make this legislation retroactive to May 2014, so corporations have notice that any transactions taking place after that date will not allow them to dodge taxes.

“This inversion loophole must be plugged,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently said, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) have both proposed legislation to plug it.

This is exactly the momentum we need to close the loophole once and for all.

The real problem is that many of these so-called “U.S.” corporations want to keep dictating our economic policies and dominating our politics, yet they have less and less loyalty to the people who actually live and work in America. They want to keep benefiting from all the things our government does for them so they can make profits — our legal system to protect their investments and patents, our education and training system to train their workers, our transportation system to get their products to market, our federally sponsored research, our military — but they want the rest of us to front their share of the bill.
Sixty years ago corporations paid one-third of federal revenues, but today they pay only one-tenth. Now they say even that’s too much. Corporate profits are at their highest ever and wage growth is near its lowest in half a century, but still these corporations are not satisfied. They want more. They want Congress to cut their income tax rate, even though many of the largest corporations get away with paying little or no taxes for years. They want Congress to eliminate taxes on the factories they ship overseas, even though an existing loophole already allows them to lower their tax bill when they outsource jobs. And if we don’t give these corporations what they want, they threaten to renounce their citizenship and stop paying U.S. taxes altogether.
We need to start demanding a little more patriotism from these corporations. If they want to keep benefiting from everything our great country has to offer, they need to start showing a little more loyalty to the people who live and work in America. And they need to stop threatening to desert the United States and stop paying their taxes altogether unless America gives in to their demands.

Follow Richard Trumka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RichardTrumka

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