Black History Month Labor Profiles: Augusta Thomas

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. Today, we take a look at Augusta Thomas.

Augusta currently is AFGE’s national vice president for women and fair practices. She is a lifelong civil rights activist, honored labor leader and a loving mother and great-great-grandmother.

A native of Kentucky, she moved when she was 13-years-old to Atlanta, where she was a classmate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., known then as “Little Martin.” Moving back to Louisville, she graduated from Central Colored High School in Louisville and then attended Clark University in Atlanta and Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in St. Louis.

Thomas joined AFGE in 1966, when she began her career as a nursing assistant at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Louisville. There, she continued her fight for equal rights and was active in the civil rights movement.

As leader in her local union, Thomas served as treasurer, secretary, chief steward, executive vice-president and president. In recognition of her work to promote racial equality and economic development, the commonwealth of Kentucky has declared April 4 as Augusta Thomas Day. AFGE’s 6th District also has developed the Augusta Thomas Humanitarian Award in her honor.

With great energy, dedication and hard work, Thomas keeps advocating for the rights of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and working families. She serves as an inspiration to many of us in these movements.

We will continue with Black History Month labor profiles throughout the month. Don’t forget that you can win one of 100 Black History Month posters by texting the code “BLACK” (for Black History Month) to 235246.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW. Co-authored by Kevin Banatte

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Philadelphia Joins the Growing List of State/Local Governments Passing Paid Sick Days Laws

The city of Philadelphia is set to become the 17th city (along with three states) that requires paid sick leave after Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed legislation passed yesterday by the City Council. Philadelphia is the second city, after Tacoma, Wash., to pass paid sick days this year so far. Nutter previously vetoed similar laws because he said the economy couldn’t handle the change during a recession.

Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored the bill, said:

The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most. They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.

The law goes into effect in 90 days, when businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to give workers a paid hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. The sick time can be used for personal illness or that of a family member, or in seeking support after domestic violence or sexual assault.  While 200,000 Philadelphia residents will benefit from the new law, it still excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, interns, government employees and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Businesses that already offer comparable or better paid sick leave to their employees will not have to change their rules. Violations of the law can be punished with fines, penalties and restitution.

As Think Progress notes, dire warnings of the negative effects of paid sick leave laws have failed to materialize elsewhere:

Despite the concern from business that paid sick leave requirements will be too costly, the evidence from places that already have them backs up the idea that they won’t be harmful. The vastmajority of employers have come to support these laws, while they haven’t hurt local economies and, in fact, many cities have outperformed after their laws were enacted.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Healthy Families Act Would Let Workers Earn Paid Sick Days

There are at least 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day and have to decide between losing wages or even risking their jobs to take care of their own illness or a sick family member. On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act that would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

In related news (see below), the Philadelphia City Council passed a new paid sick days law on Thursday.

Responding to the Healthy Families Act, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said:

Too many people are still being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a loved one. Let’s pass the Healthy Families Act and make sure no worker has to make that choice again.

Nationally more than four in 10 private-sector workers and 81% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Latinos and those who make less than $20,000 a year are the workers least likely to have paid sick days. Only 47% of Latino workers get paid sick days.

Even worse, less than 28% of workers who make under $20,000 a year have paid sick days and many of those are food service workers, and only 24% of food preparation and service workers have access to paid sick days, despite the fact that most health departments recommend that these workers not go to work sick. Said Debra L. Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families:

The Healthy Families Act is about allowing moms to stay home to care for children with strep, without having their pay docked. It’s about adult sons being able to miss a day of work to take an aging parent for medical tests, without losing their jobs. It’s about child care and nursing home staff being able to stay home when they have the flu, instead of infecting the people they care for. It’s about restaurant workers not being forced to report to work, and handle food, when they are infectious. It’s about being able to see a doctor for an eye infection before it becomes severe. It’s about common sense, public health and family economic security. It’s about dignity.

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. Twenty jurisdictions across the country now have paid sick days standards in place.

The new Philadelphia paid sick leave will require employers with 10 or more employees to allow their full-time and part-time workers to accrue at least five days of paid sick leave a year. Marianne Bellasorte of the group Pathways PA said:

We are the 17th city to pass paid sick days. So far, there have been no bad reports, nothing has gone wrong. Businesses are thriving, workers are thriving. There’s no reason to believe Philadelphia will be any different.

California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have state-paid sick day laws.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Black History Month Labor Profiles: Ella Josephine Baker

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. Today, we take a look at Ella Josephine Baker.

Baker, a granddaughter of slaves, was born in Norfolk, Va., in 1903 and moved with her family to North Carolina as a young girl. She studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., where she passionately challenged and organized around unfair school policies. In 1927, she graduated as class valedictorian then moved to New York to engage in social activism.

There, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, a group dedicated to developing black economic power through collective planning. In 1940, Baker began working with the NAACP as a field secretary and served as director of branches from 1943 through 1946. She also worked with several women’s organizations.

In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a new organization created by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Baker left the SCLC in 1960 to help organize with a group of college students and activists in Greensboro, N.C. The students sparked a series of peaceful protests at a F.W. Woolworth store lunch counter that would gain national attention and also spark resistance across the South.

With her passion and expertise, Baker helped the students create the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which played a major role in the 1960′s civil rights movement.

Ella Josephine Baker was committed to economic justice for all people and once said:

People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.

We will continue with Black History Month labor profiles throughout the month. Don’t forget that you can win one of 100 Black History Month posters by texting the code “BLACK” (for Black History Month) to 235246.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Steps Up Attacks on Working Families

Not content to just verbally attack working families, as he did in his recent State of the State address, new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has taken action to strip rights from workers. He signed an executive order that prevents public employee unions from collecting fair share fees from nonunion workers. He also has hired a legal team to pursue a federal court ruling that the fees are unconstitutional.

While the law requires public employee unions in Illinois to represent all workers in collective bargaining efforts, fair share fees make sure that nonunion workers pay for that representation. Rauner argues that fair share fees are being used for political activity, but local unions dispute that claim and say that Rauner’s move is “a blatantly illegal abuse of power.”

Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said Rauner’s action was based on “a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”

Writing on Huffington Post, political organizer and strategist Robert Creamer said:

Since unions—and collective bargaining—are the major weapons everyday people have to raise their wages, his assault on unions is a direct attack on the middle class and its future in America.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Christie Says ‘NO!’ to Buy American

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made it very clear last week where he stands on American jobs and Buy American provisions in state laws—he’s firmly against them. He didn’t veto just one Buy American bill, he vetoed five Buy American bills that passed the New Jersey Legislature with bipartisan support.

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said it was “inexcusable for the governor to turn his back on American manufacturers and American workers.”

‘Buy American’ equals Jersey jobs. In an economy where New Jersey needs to add 64,000 manufacturing jobs just to return to 2001 levels, no one would argue that the loss of all those middle-class manufacturing jobs has been good for business.

One of the five bills would have applied Buy American standards to bi-state agencies like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that contracted with an Italian steelmaker for material to upgrade the Bayonne Bridge, a decision that put hundreds of U.S. steelworkers out of work. Said United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo W. Gerard:

It’s mind-boggling that a so-called moderate with national political ambitions, who campaigned on the issue of job creation, would veto a commonsense measure that directly supports American workers and American manufacturers

Read more here and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Economy Adds 257,000 Jobs in January

The economy added 257,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate ticked slightly up to 5.7% from December’s 5.6%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was unchanged from December at 2.8 million, but the median duration of unemployment went up, because of a rise in the share of workers unemployed more than 15 weeks. So, those who have returned to the labor market still find it hard to find work.

AFL-CIO Chief Economist William E.  Spriggs said 2014 was the best year for job growth since the 1990s, and America is experiencing a record number of consecutive months of private-sector job growth. But he added:

In 2014, workers’ wages barely outpaced inflation, increasing only 2.1%. In fact, throughout the recent economic expansion, workers’ wages have stayed the same. If you adjust for inflation, median weekly wages for full-time workers are stuck where they were in 2011.That’s a big problem, because those are workers in their prime who are holding steady jobs.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in retail trades (46,000), construction (39,000), health care (38,000), food services (35,000), professional and technical (33,000), financial activities (26,000) and manufacturing (22,000).

Employment in other major industries, including mining and logging, warehousing, transportation, information and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates in January for teenagers increased to 18.8% from 16.8%. The jobless rate for adult women (5.1%), adult men (5.3%), blacks (10.3%), Latinos (6.7%) and whites (4.9%) showed little change in January from December.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bayard Rustin

Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bayard Rustin

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. First up, we take a look at Bayard Rustin.

Rustin served the trade union and civil rights movements as a brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer. In the face of his accomplishments, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten and fired from leadership positions because he was an openly gay man in a severely homophobic era. He conceived the coalition of liberal, labor and religious leaders who supported passage of the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of the 1960s and, as the first executive director of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, he worked closely with the labor movement to ensure African American workers’ rightful place in the House of Labor.

One of Rustin’s most notable moments came when he was tapped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event for which he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Organized during a two-month period, Rustin helped create what would be the largest protest in America’s history at that point. Rustin has been referred to as the “most important civil rights leader you’ve never heard of” and a key mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.

The manual that was handed out by Rustin and other leaders of the march made it clear that economic and workers’ rights were an integral part of the fight for civil rights for African Americans. The list of demands central to the march included a massive job training and placement program with a living wage, a national minimum wage that gave all Americans a decent standard of living an expanded Fair Labor Standards Act and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act that would prohibit discrimination not only by the government, but by employers and unions, too.

“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” —Bayard Rustin

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Happy Birthday, FMLA. Now Let’s Go for Paid Leave

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that allows workers to take unpaid leave to care for an ill family member or themselves without fear of losing their jobs or health insurance.

The FMLA’s unpaid leave with job protections was a good first step. But today, there are millions of workers who can’t afford to take time off for their own or a loved one’s illnesses. Forty percent of all private-sector workers don’t have any paid sick days and that doubles to 80% for low-wage workers.

Next week, the U.S. Senate will take up the Healthy Families Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). It would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said:

Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave—43 million.  Think about that.  And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.  So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.  And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington.   Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do.  It’s the right thing to do.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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If Walmart’s Anti-Retaliation Policy Is True, Tell Walmart to Discipline Managers Who Target Workers for Speaking Out

If Walmart’s Anti-Retaliation Policy Is True, Tell Walmart to Discipline Managers Who Target Workers for Speaking Out

Our Walmart members launched a campaign Wednesday calling on Walmart to uphold its publicly stated anti-retaliation policy against workers who speak out for change, better pay and full-time hours. Our Walmart says that many Walmart managers have been illegally spying on, disciplining and even firing workers who spoke out during demonstrations and Black Friday protests and strikes.

The group is calling on Walmart to either discipline those managers or own up to its anti-worker policy. A post on the Making Change at Walmart blog says:

Despite Walmart’s publicly stated anti-retaliation policy, the company has allowed these managers to get away with targeting workers who exercise their rights. These managers have upended the lives of workers, leaving many with no answer as to where money for rent or the next grocery visit will come from.

You can help support the fired and disciplined workers who are fighting back. Click here to see which store managers Our Walmart claims have been breaking the law and then sign the worker petition telling Walmart U.S. Labor Relations Manager Vice President Vicky Dawson to uphold Walmart’s policy and immediately discipline or fire these managers who have been involved in trying to illegally silence workers.

Also, on Wednesday, Mother Jones presented the story of 26-year-old Kiana Howard, who says she was fired from a Sacramento, Calif., Walmart, for taking part in the 2014 Black Friday strike. Read Walmart Cut My Hours, I Protested, and They Fired Me.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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