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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5 Lies About the Estate Tax and the Truth Behind the Lies

On Tax Day this year, April 15, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to introduce legislation that would repeal the estate tax, a policy designed to limit the concentration of wealth in the United States, generate revenue for the federal government by having those most able to pay and encourage charitable giving. The legislation comes as congressional Republican budget plans propose to slash trillions of dollars in money that benefits working families and gives away massive sums to corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) has compiled a series of dishonest and hypocritical quotes from conservatives about the estate tax and related issues. ATF Executive Director Frank Clemente explained the Republican tax agenda:

Conservatives know their economic priorities are extremely unpopular—the American people want an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. So when they try to eliminate the estate tax, which affects only multimillionaires and billionaires, they resort to outright falsehoods in making their case and use phony rhetoric claiming they care about the rest of us. Repealing the estate tax will only increase inequality in America. These quotes help the American people understand what conservatives do, not what they say.

Here are five common lies about the estate tax and the truth behind them:

  1. “[T]his tax doesn’t just hit the big guy. It hits the little guy—like the small business and the family farm. It is both unwise and unfair, and it needs to go.”—Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). In reality, this law only affects the top 0.2% of estates, those worth more than $5.4 million for an individual, or nearly $11 million for a married couple.
  2. “The Death Tax is still the number one reason family-owned farms and businesses in America aren’t passed down to the next generation.”—Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas). The estate tax (the non-right-wing propaganda name for the law) has never caused a family farm to be lost.
  3. “If you…make the argument that only rich and wealthy people pay this tax, that is not true. It’s not true for almost every farmer and rancher in this country, it’s not true for every small business owner out there.” “I am committed to repealing this unjust—and frankly, immoral—tax that hurts small businesses and family farms most.”—Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.). While there are millions of small businesses and small family farms in the United States, only 20 of them qualified to pay the estate tax in 2013.
  4. “The death tax is especially destructive to women and minority-owned small businesses in America who are building wealth often for the first time….A study by Boston College professors estimates the death tax could rob African American households of up to a quarter-trillion dollars of wealth over the first half of this century.”—Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas). The study that Brady cites shows that significantly fewer than 1% of African American households have a net worth that would cause them to pay the estate tax.
  5. “For too long the federal government has forced grieving families to pay a tax on their loved one’s life savings that have been built from income already taxed when originally earned.”—Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). In reality, 55% of the value of estates worth more than $100 million are unrealized capital gains that have not been subject to income or capital gains tax. For estates worth anywhere between $5 million and $10 million, the unrealized capital gains that have not been taxed is 32% of their overall value. Without an estate tax, heirs also can escape paying any taxes on those gains.

The AFL-CIO has joined a coalition of more than 70 organizations opposing the repeal of the estate tax. Read more facts about the estate tax.

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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Unions Are a Woman’s Best Friend

With National Women’s History Month behind us now, it’s still important to celebrate the great strides women have made over the past decades. It is equally important to remember how many women workers still don’t have the basic necessities they need to support themselves and their families. 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. Women of color, in particular, have a hard time getting good pay and benefits, and they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.

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. Collective bargaining through unions also narrows the pay gap between men and women significantly. A typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion woman and is far more likely to have health and retirement security. This puts upward pressure on wages and benefits throughout industries that are predominately female, many of which traditionally pay low wages. Every worker deserves to have protections on the job, and it is the goal of the labor movement to ensure that happens.

Recently I was in Chicago for the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Worker Summit, and I was inspired by how many young women I saw around me. Hundreds of young women came from across the country eager to learn and grow as leaders in the labor movement and to stand up for the rights of all workers. They were facilitating workshops, speaking on panels and leading their union brothers and sisters at demonstrations around the city in solidarity with local workers. Erica Clemons, a young worker with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), provided a snapshot into why it is so important for labor to be active in the fight for women’s rights. She said, “I’m a young organizer. A person of color. A mother. These identities matter to me. It’s important for the labor movement to understand unique struggles.”

Erica started out as a cashier at her local Kroger grocery store in Atlanta. After becoming a member of UFCW, she advanced through hard work and determination from cashier to a spot in the selective UFCW Gold Internship Program in Ohio, an intensive organizer training. Erica excelled in the program, and the organizing director of UFCW Local 881 took notice and offered her a job on the local’s organizing team. Now Erica works to help workers organize in grocery stores just like the one where she started out. She helped organize and lead hundreds of Next Up participants in the demonstration at a Food 4 Less grocery store last week in Chicago, advocating for higher wages. And in her spare time, she serves on the AFL-CIO’s National Young Worker Advisory Council.

The work that Erica and thousands of other union women are doing across the country offers a good reminder that if we work and stand together, achieving gender equality is possible for women all across the United States.

This is a cross-post from MomsRising.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Two New Reports Detail How Walmart Keeps Profits High, Wages Down

A new study finds that Walmart’s promised raise for its lowest-paid employees to $9 per hour in 2015 and $10 per hour in 2016, will still require large taxpayer subsidies to compensate for the lowness of Walmart’s wages. Meanwhile a new report from the AFL-CIO finds Walmart is seeking to cut its costs for higher-paid, U.S. high-tech workers by recruiting temporary foreign tech workers at lower wages.

Meanwhile a new study from Americans for Tax Fairness finds that Walmart’s promised raise for its lowest-paid employees to $9 per hour in 2015 and $10 per hour in 2016, will still require large taxpayer subsidies to compensate for the lowness of Walmart’s wages.

The AFL-CIO report  finds that Walmart has been increasingly submitting applications for H-1B visas. These visas let U.S. companies employ foreign workers. The report criticizes the reasons the company is using the visas:  “Walmart is driving down standards in the tech industry in the U.S. by using H-1B visas and contractors excessively. This keeps costs low and allows for IT guest workers to be paid less.”  Over the past eight years, Walmart has filed 1,800 petitions for the visas, including a high of 513 in 2014.  Numerous other companies also have filed similar petitions for work in Bentonville, Ark., the home of Walmart’s corporate headquarters. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

At a time when we face unprecedented levels of inequality and decades of wage stagnation, it is irresponsible to expand access to employment-based temporary work programs that will continue to hold down wages, increase worker vulnerability and reduce social mobility for deserving workers.

The report also reveals how Walmart has quietly backed corporate lobbying groups pushing to expand the program and increase the number of H-1B visas that are available. In the meantime, the number of H-1B applications for IT workers in Bentonville continues to grow—suggesting that local Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) recent graduates lose out on IT jobs.

The study, from Americans for Tax Fairness finds that the $9 per hour standard would still mean that most of those low-wage workers, even working at Walmart’s full-time standard of 34 hours a week, would bring home less than $16,000 a year.  Such a low rate would qualify a single worker for at least three government assistance programs.  If the worker has one or more children, they would qualify for eight programs.

The 2016 standard of $10 per hour would raise employees’ annual take home pay by less than $2,000, and if the worker with that salary had one or more children, they would still qualify for all eight government assistance programs.  Raising wages to a minimum of $15 per hour with a 40-hour workweek, the report finds, would raise the annual take-home pay for the lowest-paid employees to $31,200 a year, which would lift most workers out of the eligibility bracket for government assistance.  Based on the last year of profits made by the Walton family, such a raise would still leave the company’s owners with $10 billion in profit (not to mention their massive existing fortunes).

Read the full Americans for Tax Fairness report.  Read the full AFL-CIO report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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