Nepal Guides Organize Walkouts After a Deadly Avalanche Kills Colleagues

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The worst climbing accident in Mt. Everest history has claimed the lives of at least 13 sherpas, including union leader Dorje Khatri, and spurred large-scale walkouts right before the immensely popular tourist season gets underway.

Following a massive avalanche on Friday the sherpas, skilled Mt. Everest climbers who assist tourists in their expeditions, banded together to demand safer conditions and greater reparations.

The Nepal government, which makes an estimated $3.5 million a year from climbing expeditions, noted that “it would pay the families of each sherpa who died 40,000 rupees, or about $415.”

The government also offered the sherpas a meager $15,620 in insurance money, far lower than the requested $20,800.

The lack of compliance with their demands led the sherpas to schedule walkouts this week.

The sherpas are holding on to the belief that they deserve more. Through their union, the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association, the sherpas are requesting more insurance money, and more financial aid for the victims’ families, among other things.

Climbing season peaks in mid-May, meaning that the walkouts could potentially ruin the tourist season.

Aside from the compensation that the sherpas are requesting the disaster has left many of them with an extensive amount of emotional grief, as three sherpas remain missing.

“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing while there are three of our friends buried in the snow,” said Dorje Sherpa, an experienced Everest guide from the tiny Himalayan community that has become famous for its high-altitude skills and endurance.

“I can’t imagine stepping over them,” he said of the three sherpa guides who remain buried in ice and snow.

The deaths have shaken the local community, as many were forced to watch as helicopters lifted the bodies out of the wreckage.

This tragedy is a great illustration of how important it is for workers to organize, no matter the country or circumstance.

Photo courtesy of ilkerender via Flickr.

UConn Students Lead the Way on Collective Action

From the classroom to the basketball court, the University of Connecticut community is widely embracing the concept of collective action. The school that set the standard for basketball excellence this year by winning both the men’s and the women’s national championships is making news as the college’s students are stepping up and acting collectively to improve their lives.”

Graduate employees at the university won a victory last week as the state Board of Labor Relations verified that more than half of the graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants had signed cards authorizing the Graduate Employee Union (UAW) to represent them. UConn is the first school in the state where grad assistants have successfully unionized and, with more than 2,100 assistants, the unit becomes the largest at the college, outpacing the 1,700 members of the faculty union and 1,600 members of the staff union. The graduate employees say that the college has stayed neutral in the process and didn’t oppose the union as other colleges have. Among the top concerns the new union members plan to address with college officials are the recent increases in health insurance co-payments and student fees.

Madelynn von Baeyer, a member of the organizing committee, says: “I think it’s wonderful that UConn came out and recognized our right to collectively bargain. Being recognized, we’re hopeful to enter a new mature relationship with the university that will improve not only (the) experience as a graduate employee, but will benefit the university by bringing in top-quality graduate employees for future years.”

The UConn graduate assistants are the latest group to win a union voice. More than 1.200 NYU graduate employees voted to join the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) and Scientists and Engineers Together/UAW (SET/UAW) in December and grad assistants on several other campuses seeking union representation.

In related news at UConn, basketball player Shabazz Napier made headlines after his team won the championship last month when he told reporters that because of NCAA limitations on what players can do, he often goes to bed hungry at night. While the rule had been in the works prior to Napier’s comments, the college athletics governing body approved changes that will allow student athletes to have unlimited meals and snacks. The rule should clear up a muddled environment where a school like Oklahoma, rather than run afoul of the NCAA, self-reported that three players ate too much pasta at a graduation banquet and were required to each donate $3.83 to charity to make sure they weren’t accused of taking illegal gifts. The new rule should prevent future such misunderstandings and guarantee that student athletes have enough food to eat.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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JetBlue Pilots Vote to Take Off with ALPA

The more than 2,600 pilots at JetBlue Airways have voted overwhelmingly to join the Air Line Pilots (ALPA), the National Mediation Board announced today.

Captains Gustavo Rivera and Rocky Durham, co-chairs of the JetBlue Organizing Committee, said:

Today, JetBlue pilots have voted for ALPA representation so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers. As committed as we are to our objectives, we also want to work with management to ensure we continue to contribute positively to JetBlue’s success. We believe in JetBlue and look forward to helping make this company one of the best.

Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA, said the win shows the strong desire of JetBlue pilots to secure a meaningful voice in their future, the certainty of a collective bargaining agreement and the resources needed to be relevant.

ALPA welcomes the JetBlue pilots. [ALPA] is ready to work with JetBlue pilots achieve their goals. They make our union stronger by adding their unified voices to [ALPA's] strong bargaining and advocacy efforts.

Of the 96% of pilots eligible to vote, 71% voted for ALPA.

Watch a video statement from Capt. Moak.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Walmart Warehouse Worked Without Heat During Polar Vortex: Punching In

The failure of Tea Party governors

Voters will have the chance this November to oust the radical anti-worker state executives who took over in 2010.

Related: Scott Walker’s Wisconsin among worst-performing states for entrepreneurship.

State Senator Nina Turner demonstrates the hurdles created by Ohio Gov. Kasich’s voting restrictions.

Key Quote: “It’s politics. It’s a margins game. Elections are decided by slim margins so when you manipulate the rules to create greater burdens to vote, ultimately, it’s going to reduce political participation.”

Cities revolt!

Harold Meyerson’s great piece on the progressive revolution in cities.

Molly Ball’s great piece on the backlash against privatization in cities.

Warehouse justice

Walmart warehouse workers in Indiana who worked without heat during polar vortex file charges with NLRB.

Our home and native land…

The U.S. no longer has the world’s richest middle class. We just fell behind Canada.

ALEC makes the front page

Lobbyist-paid trips for legislators make the front page in Missouri.

Media starts to notice wage theft

Employers are stealing from their workers, and the New York Times editorial board is on it.

Finally: More taxi drivers seek to organize

Chicago cabbies want to follow New York’s lead and form a union.

Small business owners react to New York City’s Paid Sick Days Law in Predictable Fashion

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It seems that, with the exception of a small few, the restaurant owners affected by New York City’s new paid sick days legislation agree with it in principle, not practice.

Food blog Eater surveyed four small restaurant owners in New York City to get their thoughts about the new paid sick days law. Despite overwhelming evidence that points to the positives of the legislation, most of them disagreed with the law.

“Philosophically I completely love the idea of paid sick leave. I love the idea of a living wage,” says Monica Byrne, owner of Home/Made.

But then Byrne goes on to note that while she’s “all for getting us there” she’d prefer to do it “in a sane manner that doesn’t make it impossible for teeny little mom and pop—or mom and mom in my case—businesses to survive.”

In reality, there are thousands of workers and their families are struggling to survive while ill due to inadequate paid sick leave.

“In general I’m not against the law. I think it’s very good, especially for the back of house employees,” said William Tigertt, owner of N.Y.-based Freemans.

He then counters his own claim by noting that, “The way it shakes out, I think it will eventually end up eliminating more jobs as people try to cut back as much as they can, and do more quick service or fast casual concepts where there isn’t as much labor.”

Contrary to Tigertt’s statement, giving employees paid sick days doesn’t have a great financial impact on businesses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paid sick days costs employers less than 1 percent of employees average pay.

Still, there were a few restaurant owners who were in favor of the now final law.

James Mallios, owner of Amali, made the decision to give workers paid sick days over a month ago, for both business and moral reasons:

“I used to work at a job where I had sick days, and I didn’t think twice about it. Someone should be able to do that. It doesn’t make them a bad employee, it doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means their priorities are correctly aligned. And on a completely selfish level, in terms of dollars and cents, one of the most under-appreciated assets in the restaurant business is your employees. There’s an amazingly high cost to attrition.”

Photo courtesy of Peter Stevens via Flickr.

12 Elizabeth Warren Quotes to Prepare You for Her Appearance at the AFL-CIO on May 2

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be appearing at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on May 2 to promote her new book, A Fighting Chance, which chronicles her inspiring life story. From her working-class roots in Oklahoma to her successful 2012 campaign to replace incumbent Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), Warren tells the passionate story of what drives her to fight for working people. Here are 12 key quotes from her that show why she is a champion of the 99%.

1. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory….Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”—September 2011

2. “People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they’re right. The system is rigged.”—September 2012

3. “Hardworking men and women who are busting their tails in full-time jobs shouldn’t be left in poverty.”—August 2013

4. “Look around. Oil companies guzzle down the billions in profits. Billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, and Wall Street CEOs, the same ones that direct our economy and destroyed millions of jobs still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that?”—September 2012

5. “It is critical that the American people, and not just their financial institutions, be represented at the negotiating table.”—Summer 2009

6. “Americans are fighters. We’re tough, resourceful and creative, and if we have the chance to fight on a level playing field, where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot, then no one—no one can stop us.”—September 2012

7. “And that’s how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt, we root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together.”—September 2012

8. “I understand the frustration, I share their frustration with what’s going on, that right now Washington is wired to work well for those on Wall Street who can hire lobbyists and lawyers and it doesn’t work very well for the rest of us.”—October 2011

9. “If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail….Evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”—March 2013

10. “Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”—September 2012

11. “If there had been a Financial Product Safety Commission in place 10 years ago, the current financial crisis would have been averted.”—Summer 2009

12. “Nobody’s safe. Health insurance? That didn’t protect 1 million Americans who were financially ruined by illness or medical bills last year.”—February 2005

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Punching In: Earth Day Edition

A great chart that illustrates the growth of income inequality

In 1980 the American middle and poorer class had higher incomes than their counterparts.

Now, not so much.

Raise the wage

A full-time Walmart managers’ story: “I make $12,000 a year.”

Medicaid expansion     

According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, nearly 70 percent of Arkansans have signed up for the private Medicaid option.

Teachers experience wage theft, too

An interesting commentary on pensions and wage theft as it pertains to educators.

The fight to unionize

Finally, Kaplan teachers get their union contract.

Lastly, happy Earth Day!

Check out The Nation’s extensive coverage of environmental issues.

AFL-CIO Calls on the Obama Administration to Provide Deportation Relief

Update: Monday afternoon AP reported Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is weighing limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. who don’t have serious criminal records. Read more.

The AFL-CIO today called upon President Barack Obama to halt deportations that tear families apart from each other, and today the AFL-CIO sent the president a memo urging him to take swift action on the urgent needs of workers and immigrant communities.

While Republicans in Congress are abdicating their responsibility to create a commonsense immigration process, the AFL-CIO recommends the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take the following three steps:

  1. DHS should grant affirmative relief with work authorization to individuals who are low priorities for removal or eligible for prosecutorial discretion under existing DHS policies. This would stop employers from “playing the deportation card” that pits workers against each other.
  2. DHS should reassert the primary role of the federal government in determining and implementing enforcement priorities by ending programs that effectively delegate those responsibilities to state and local law enforcement.
  3. DHS should reform the enforcement and removal system to stop criminalizing immigrant communities and ensure that individuals who are low priorities for removal or eligible for prosecutorial discretion are not removed.

Read more details about these steps in the memo and from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workplace Realities: An Eye-Opening Video

Family Values @ Work recently released this video in an effort to addresses workplace issues that employees and their families encounter.

The video gives some common, short anecdotes that perfectly illustrate the plights of workers and their families.

There’s the boss who sexually harasses his employee, the child worried that La Migra is coming to take her parents, and the woman who doesn’t get paid overtime.

Buzzfeed has posted the video on its site, along with seven interesting facts about 21st century workplace culture.

Pryor Supports a Modest, but Much Needed Wage Hike for Arkansas

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Despite State Representative and U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Cotton’s resistance to any minimum wage hike, Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor continues to endorse raising the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour.

In a recent op-ed, the senator expressed his hesitation to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, noting that the figure “might make sense for more affluent places like California or New York.”

Instead, Pryor expressed support for a ballot initiative that would modestly raise Arkansas’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour:

“Too many Arkansans today are working harder than ever, but with so many in low-wage jobs — some working two or even three — they’re falling further behind. Raising the minimum wage can begin to reverse this trend while protecting and strengthening Arkansas’s economic core: our working families.”

Arkansas currently pays a minimum wage of $6.25 an hour, one of the lowest in the entire country, and a gradual raise could prove to be a reasonable way to give nearly 170,000 residents a raise while stimulating the economy, Pryor wrote.

“Raising the wage isn’t a government handout, and it doesn’t add a dime to our debt or deficits. Rather, it’s a market-based solution that helps hardworking families struggling to get by,” Pryor wrote.

Advocates of raising the state wage are currently pushing to get signatures to place the measure on the ballot in November.

Photo courtesy of Bread for the World via Flickr.

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