Chris Pennock is a Working America member here in Minnesota, and he’s had a unique few months.
He agreed to sit on the Workforce Partnership Group, which was set up to examine how the city of Minneapolis can best make sure everyone has paid time off when they are sick. Business people, labor groups and workers served on the partnership, and Chris represented everyday working people like you and me.
After weeks of listening sessions, studies and testimony, the group recently released a strong set of proposals to tackle this urgent problem in our city. Now, it’s up to us to make sure the word gets out so that elected leaders on the City Council act with urgency to follow their lead.
Check out Chris’s video and share it with your friends to help make this happen.
“I am a low-wage worker who hasn’t had sick time in 10 years. Whatever it is — a foodborne illness, the flu — I have to decide what’s more important to me. I have to decide whether I want to pay my bills or take care of myself. And that is something we heard so many times from people.”
Right now, people are having to choose between paying the bills and taking care of themselves or their loved ones. That’s not who we are as Minnesotans, and by acting together, we can change this policy.
My name is Jermaine. I’m 20 years old and I moved back to Minnesota from Illinois a year ago. I moved back home because I wanted more stability in my life, for a better job and a better school.
I’ve been working at SuperAmerica for almost a year now and I have some real problems with my schedule at work. It goes up and down and changes at the last minute, which causes me hardship in my life. One week I’ll get 32 hours, the next it’s 24 hours – and that has a big impact on my life.
I’m an adult and I don’t want to ask my parents for things, but it’s hard to keep up with that stuff when your schedule changes all the time, with just a few days’ notice. And it’s not just that it changes week to week.
Sometimes I come into work and find that the schedule’s been changed in the middle of the week. My managers pretend they haven’t touched it, but I know they have – I’ve even started taking pictures of my schedule. It happens so often that I just have to cancel my friends and tell them that they’ve changed my schedule again.
I don’t think people understand what it’s like working in a gas station like SuperAmerica.
When you work late and night, you have a lot of encounters with a lot of different people. One of my co-workers had bodily harm to the face. The police were called, but they didn’t come for hours. She confronted the guy taking bags of candy and got hit in the face. We’re back there behind the cash register while these guys are ransacking the place – she got hit in the face.
We asked the district manager to put up glass to protect us, but the district manager doesn’t want the store appearance to turn off customers.
I’ve had someone harass me at work, but our managers did nothing. And all that, for $11 an hour – and, until recently, we were only making $9.50 an hour.
Then, you get no sick days – if you’re sick, you have to find someone to cover your shift. You just have to keep calling people. There’s a lot of pressure not to miss if you’re sick and, of course, if you miss your shift, you don’t get paid.
That’s why I’m so happy that the City is planning to make reforms.
If we had fair schedules and paid time off, It would help a lot. It would lower my stress level. I didn’t know a job can stress you this much before I worked here. I think you’re supposed to like your job, but how can I enjoy that. I enjoy being with my co-workers. We keep each other motivated and together, but we are being overlooked. That’s got to change.
I didn’t really value my right to vote until the Supreme Court started messing with the Voting Rights Act. That’s when I saw what voter suppression was. Up until then, I took my right to vote for granted. Not everybody has an easy time voting, and National Voter Registration Day makes sure that everyone has a say in our country’s future.
No matter where you live, you can contribute to advancing progress by participating in our democratic system and voting, and I really love that. My husband and I are in our 80s and we can’t go out to march or rally. But I can write letters and attend meetings. We can all do something, and we all have our part!
As a retired schoolteacher, I know the importance of a good education. Student success in the classroom is often the result of some basics: showing up and being prepared to participate. The same rules apply to civic engagement. You’ve got to be registered to cast a ballot.
Yet, 6 million Americans didn’t vote in 2008 because they either missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register altogether. That’s why National Voter Registration Day (Sept. 22) is such a big deal.
Volunteers and organizations across the country are in motion to reach thousands of people, reminding them why their voices need to be heard and why their participation is vital. Our country stays strong when all voters are informed and know what’s at stake and who’s standing with women and families. Step one in shaping the direction of our communities, states and country is being registered to vote.
National Voter Registration Day provides hundreds of resources and events to set everyone on the right track for Election Day in November. From bringing new voters into the fold to reminding longtime voters how to stay current and registered, this is a day that celebrates one of the biggest protections our democracy offers. Do your part and get started now.
I love living in Greensboro. When I moved here a little over three years ago, I found it easy to make friends and become part of the community. I especially liked the beautiful public parks and green spaces that the city offers its residents.
Even in a strong community like ours, however, I’ve seen people struggling. I joined Working America recently because I was tired of seeing elected officials pass policies that rigged the economy to benefit wealthy billionaires at the expense of working families. Fighting for good jobs and a just economy starts with paying workers fairly, and that’s why I believe it’s time to raise the minimum wage.
This is an important issue: Six years ago the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour, and it hasn’t been touched since. Wages for North Carolinians have been stagnant since the minimum wage was last raised in 2009, while prices for life’s daily necessities have continued to go up. But we can do something concrete to address the problem: Raise the minimum wage for folks working for the city.
Many of the folks affected by the frozen minimum wage are the same ones who make Greensboro a great place to live. They’re city workers, and they keep our streets clean and safe. They maintain our parks and trails, and they run our libraries and clean our public buildings. Putting more money in their pockets immediately pumps needed dollars back into our local economy and helps keep our city beautiful. It’s a win-win, and it’s been proven in other places.
Working families are already struggling to make it in this economy. Everyone could use a raise, and paying low-wage workers, especially city workers, a family wage helps raise the bar and sets a powerful example for local employers. Six years is long enough – now is the time for the Greensboro community to do the right thing for working men, women and families and raise the minimum wage.
As dozens of organizers and union members came together to celebrate the 2015 Oregon AFL-CIO Organizing Summit, they were joined by two unlikely leaders of the latest group of people organizing for good jobs and fair pay — licensed massage therapists (LMTs). Not many people think of massage therapists as activists, but they haven’t met Charlie Cavallo and Janet Weiser … yet!
Janet and Charlie are two Portland-based licensed massage therapists (LMTs), and their work is part of something exciting that is happening among the city’s massage therapists.
The pair is part of a growing team of LMTs who are standing up to make their jobs better. Despite years of training, many massage therapists face low pay, long hours and strenuous, physical work. Because of this, therapists have high rates of injuries, and many of them struggle to pay off large student debts with a meager paycheck.
These problems have grown all the worse with the spread of large massage franchise chains, which do even more to drive down standards in the industry.
Recognizing that working conditions will only get better if they organize, dozens of therapists have now come together to form the Massage Advocacy Project (MAP).
“When I moved to Oregon in 2010 and started working for a popular spa, I felt pretty angry. I was working a lot and wasn’t happy with the pay and conditions, so I used to walk around saying to my co-workers, ’We need to have a union,’” said Charlie.
While few massage therapists have access to a traditional union with collective bargaining rights, the group has decided to go ahead and build a new kind of organization to raise standards and make their work lives better.
The pair participated in group discussions at the summit, and as the many groups of working people exchanged their stories, it became clearer just how much they all had in common. For Janet, participating in that group made a huge difference: “I felt inspired and welcomed by the group. We all face struggles surrounding our workplaces, and I felt that what was being said was actually being heard.”
That inspiration was felt by everyone who was there and heard about the MAP’s plans to raise wages and standards for therapists. That work was a source of pride for Charlie, who said, “I was proud to be there with Working America, and I’m really happy that they are working with massage therapists to improve conditions and increase awareness.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sets the record straight when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Fast Track in this short audio clip. If you want to know what’s really happening on the trade front, give it a listen.
Earlier this month, the CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, announced the company would no longer allow employees to negotiate their salaries. Pao explained the move was an attempt to close the pay gap between women and men since, based on her experience, women are worse negotiators than men and as she put it, “From what I’ve heard from women, they…feel like there’s no way to win.”
Pao’s claim that some women lose out at the negotiating table is correct. And her instinct to take action and use her power as CEO to level the playing field is admirable. But her response misses the point of what’s really happening for women at work.
Women don’t need less negotiating power. They need more. And no one woman — CEO or front-line worker — can solve this problem alone.
Many hardworking women lose out on wages not because they are ineffective negotiators. Rather, they, along with their male colleagues, lack the power to come together to raise wages collectively.
As secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and a woman who has dealt with her share of office politics, I understand the challenges that both Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg describe on the job. But I have a very different solution.
I got my start in the labor movement working with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union on an organizing campaign of clerical workers at Portland General Electric (PGE) in my home state of Oregon shortly after I graduated from college. While the power linemen at PGE were all union members, the clerical workers— mainly women — were not.
It became apparent that the linemen received good pay and benefits, thanks to their union contract; but the clerical workers did not have that collective power and lacked leverage to negotiate better pay and conditions in the workplace that they deserved. It wasn’t a big leap for the clerical workers to realize they too could raise their wages and secure benefits through a union contract like their linemen peers.
The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave among other benefits.
And in direct response to Ellen Pao’s concern about the wage gap, union negotiated contracts narrow the pay gap between men and women significantly. In fact, a typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion working woman. Most industries that are predominantly female like fast food and home health care pay low wages that often don’t even cover the basic necessities of life. These low wages act to keep women’s salaries down in every industry, not just in low-wage work.
The tech economy has changed a lot of things — from bitcoin to social media. But, unfortunately, some things have stayed the same. It’s hard to erase sex discrimination with a simple rule change and even harder to improve working conditions when employees aren’t allowed to sit across the table from their boss and negotiate.
But there’s a tried and true remedy to these problems. Why shouldn’t the women of Silicon Valley join a union if they want to close the gender pay gap?
And why shouldn’t they sit with their male colleagues and raise wages for workers across the board? Or negotiate workplace policies that ensure mothers and fathers are able to succeed at work and take care of their families?
Many high-tech workers already have said yes to a collective voice: From NASA engineers to professional, technical and other highly skilled workers at Boeing and computer scientists and technicians at AT&T. Tech workers have enjoyed the benefits of union membership for decades. Currently, groups of Silicon Valley workers such as shuttle drivers are trying to organize to gain a stronger voice on the job.
Even professionals at online blogs like Gawker are unionizing for a voice at work. If workers in new media can do it, anyone can. If people continue to re-imagine what a union can look like in their workplace and adapt the value of collective action to meet modern challenges — perhaps Reddit, too, can think about narrowing the pay gap by helping women and men negotiate better pay and a fair workplace through a union.
At today’s Citigroup shareholder meeting in New York City, AFL-CIO Office of Investment Director Heather Slavkin Corzo challenged the Wall Street bank’s influence in Washington. At the meeting, Corzo introduced a proposal to require disclosure of Citigroup’s government service golden parachutes.
As an investor in Citigroup, the AFL-CIO asked the company last November to explain why the company pays golden parachutes to executives who take jobs with the government. The AFL-CIO filed the shareholder proposal after Citigroup failed to respond to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s letter.
Among Citigroup’s highly placed alumni in Washington are Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who received as much as $500,000 worth of stock awards when he left Citigroup for a government job, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman who collected more than $4 million when he joined the Obama administration.
Citigroup’s clout in Washington was on full display last December when the bank helped push through a law that gutted an important provision of the Dodd–Frank Act. The Citigroup-supported bill repealed a requirement for banks to “push out” risky derivatives trading into separate units that are not insured by taxpayers.
The AFL-CIO’s shareholder proposal on government service golden parachutes received 26.4% of the votes cast. The proposal also will go to a vote later this year at J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Despite significant advancements in workplace health and safety in the 44 years since the Occupational Safety and Health Act become law, today and every day 150 people will be killed on the job or die from job-related illnesses and diseases. That and other sobering statistics about the preventable deaths and injuries workers face each day are in the 2015 edition of the AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect released today.
In 2013 (the latest figures available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) 4,585 workers were killed on the job, and some 53,000 died from occupational diseases. Also, nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries a year. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
No worker should be exposed to fatal injuries and illnesses at work, yet every day 150 men and women die from a work injury or occupational disease. Their deaths remind us that Americans still—in 2015—face too many dangers at the workplace.
The report includes state-by-state profiles of workers’ safety and health and features state and national information on workplace fatalities, injuries, illnesses, the number and frequency of workplace inspections, penalties, funding, staffing and public employee coverage under the OSH Act.
Here are some key facts from Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect:
North Dakota remains the most dangerous state for workers, with an average of 14.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers, more than four times the national average of 3.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. The next deadliest states for workers are Wyoming (9.5), West Virginia (8.6), Alaska (7.9) and New Mexico (6.7).
On the other hand (see graphic above), states with the highest union density are among the safest for workers, with 13 states ranked in the top 20 for both union density and lowest rates of workplace fatalities.
Death on the Job also finds that Latino and immigrant worker deaths, injuries and occupational illnesses are on the rise. In 2013, 817 Latinos died on the job—a rate 18% greater than the national average—and 66% of Latinos killed on the job were immigrants.
In the area of job safety enforcement to ensure employers are not violating workplace safety laws, the report says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) remain underfunded and understaffed.
In addition, penalties for employers who are found to be lawbreakers are weak. The average federal OSHA penalty for serious violations is just $1,972 and the median federal OSHA penalty for worker deaths is only $5,050. Of the 390,000 worker deaths since 1970, only 88 cases have been criminally prosecuted.
Also many important workplace and mine safety rules remain stalled, some due to administration inaction but mainly because of congressional Republican and corporate opposition. For example, in 2013, OSHA issued a rule that would reduce silica dust exposures and strengthen worker protections against silica, which causes lung cancer, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases and silicosis, a debilitating and irreversible lung disease. It is estimated the rule would save some 700 lives a year and prevent 1,600 cases of silicosis annually. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups are lobbying against finalizing this commonsense rule.
As the 2016 presidential battle begins to roll down the campaign trail toward Election Day 18 months from now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The labor movement’s doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages.”
In a live-streamed speech this morning from the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., Trumka said:
We have created an agenda for shared prosperity called raising wages. It will be our inspiration and our measuring stick throughout the presidential campaign. Raising wages is grounded in a fundamental idea—that we can become a high-wage society, a society in which the people who do the work share in the wealth we create.
He also stressed that the labor movement opposes Fast Track and:
We expect those who seek to lead our nation forward to oppose Fast Track. There is no middle ground, and the time for deliberations is drawing to a close.
Trumka pointed to the skepticism and cynicism many voters feel, especially after nearly two generations national leaders have either “taken steps that worsened inequality or fiddled around the edges, trying to raise wages in an economy fundamentally built to lower wages.”
President Obama has spent much of his presidency getting our nation out of a deep economic crisis. Now we have an economy where GDP is up, and the stock market is up, but wages remain flat—and this has happened again and again since the 1970s. Once again, America is emerging from an economic crisis—but those of us who count on paychecks are not. And that’s not an accident. Workers are being held down on purpose.
He said the decline in wages, soaring corporate profits and booming CEO pay are not the result “of the wandering and clumsy hand of capitalism.” Instead, he said:
Since the 1980s, the growing political power of the wealthiest among us has rewritten our labor laws, our trade laws, our tax laws, our monetary policies, our fiscal policies, our financial regulations…all to push wages down and to increase corporate profits, to put speculation over private investment and tax cuts over public investment.
The results, Trumka said, are runaway inequality, unemployment, falling wages, rising economic insecurity, collapsing infrastructure and deteriorating national competitiveness—all driven by gigantic imbalances in economic and political power.
In the 2016 campaign, “there will be no place to hide for those who aspire to lead America,” he said.
The problems of income inequality and stagnant wages are so clear, so abundant, that only direct, sweeping action to change the rules will put our nation on a fresh path of progress. We are hungry for a path to a prosperous 21st century. And America’s workers know that the first step on that path is raising wages.
But he emphasized that a raising wages agenda is a broad vision that includes earned sick leave, full employment and fair overtime rules for workers. It also includes taxing Wall Street to pay for massive investments in infrastructure and education, so Wall Street serves Main Street, not the other way around and the ability for workers to bargain collectively with employers for good wages and benefits without fear of retaliation.
Any candidate who wants to appeal to workers has to put forth a bold and comprehensive raising wages agenda. They must be committed to investing in a prosperous future for America. They must have an authentic voice and a commitment, from the candidate down through his or her economic team, to see this agenda through to completion.