After 59 straight months of job growth, the U.S. economy is on the path to recovery. But thousands of young workers are being left behind due to a system that hasn’t allowed young people to gain a secure economic foothold. The AFL-CIO has been involved actively in the push to create an economy that works for everyone. From March 19–22, the AFL-CIO will host the Next Up Young Worker Summit in Chicago to educate hundreds of young people in the different ways they can make a change in their local communities. For more information on the summit, go to www.NextUpSummit.org.
Instead of our usual “Top 10,” we’re going to offer you a list of facts, numbered 18–29 in honor of the age range of young workers, that you should know in advance of the summit.
18. Young workers are one-third of the workforce and comprise one-quarter of the labor movement (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] Union Members Summary, 2014).
19. Young workers currently comprise the most diverse generation in America’s history (Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project, March 7, 2014).
20. In 2014, there were nearly 3.7 million young worker union members, which is just more than 7.6% of all young workers (BLS Union Members Summary, 2014).
25. College enrollment for young people fell between 2010 and 2014.
26. Student debt has continued to climb past the all-time high of $1.2 trillion hit in 2013.
27. Young workers have higher levels of student loan debt and lower levels of wealth and personal income than the two generations who came before them (Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project, March 7, 2014).
28. Many young people who do have jobs don’t have access to stable schedules, benefits or the pay of traditional full-time jobs.
On Monday, Gallup released a new poll on America’s attitudes toward trade. Before getting too caught up in potential spin regarding the poll, it’s important that anyone interested in the state of public opinion on trade think about a few key points. Here are eight things you should know about the poll and what Americans think about trade-related issues.
1. The poll says little about people’s knowledge and understanding of current trade policy, and more about people’s perceptions about the improving state of the U.S. economy when compared to the Great Recession and related global financial crisis. Gallup explicitly says this: “Gallup has found that perceptions of foreign trade may partly relate to Americans’ confidence in the economy. And as the economy has improved significantly in the past year, it’s likely that public fears about foreign trade have diminished, partly because of Americans’ strengthening views of the U.S. economy.”
2. The poll, which is conducted annually, saw spikes in 2008, with the highest percent seeing trade as a threat to the economy and the lowest percent seeing trade as an opportunity in the poll’s history. The increases in the latest poll are simply a continuation of the trend away from the low point caused by the recession.
3. The poll doesn’t even ask respondents about current trade policy broadly or specifically. It doesn’t mention topics like Fast Track, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, job offshoring, currency, Buy American provisions, etc. It simply asks whether foreign trade is “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports or a threat to the economy from foreign imports.”
4. Other polls have shown a more complex reaction of the public to the topics of trade. A January 2015 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, shows that Americans support trade in general but oppose the current approach to trade (the rules of which are enshrined in the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent deals) that leads to jobs being shipped overseas, creates massive deficits, makes wages stagnant and has contributed to high levels of income inequality.
5. In the Pew Research poll, only 20% of Americans believe that trade policies, as practiced by the United States, have led to job creation. Only 17% think that such policies have increased wages in the United States. Only one-third say that trade has lowered prices for consumers.
6. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from 2014 found that a plurality of Americans would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”
7. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also found that a plurality believed the recent model of globalization has been “bad because it has subjected American companies and employees to unfair competition and cheap labor.”
8. A January 2014 poll by Hart Research Associates and Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that 62% of Americans oppose Fast Tracking the TPP.
As more than 8,500 union members and other civil society activists gather at the United Nations in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women meeting, new research shows women have made some gains in the two decades since the landmark global meeting on women in Beijing but continue to suffer from economic insecurity and widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace.
Fewer women are in the workforce today, according to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO). In 1995, 52% of women and 80% of men were in the workforce, the ILO report finds. Today the participation rate for women is 50%, compared to 77% for men, reflecting in part the effects of the global recession.
Further, ILO research shows that women continue to be overrepresented in low-wage jobs that offer little security and few, if any, benefits. Women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes—a rate that means women will not achieve pay equity with men before 2086. Women also work many hours without pay, a point made by an interactive, online report produced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation and Economist Intelligence Unit.
Unions are sponsoring several workshops and events during the CSW meetings, including a March 11 panel discussion, “Women’s Economic Empowerment and Labor Rights: Beijing +20 and Beyond.” Sponsored in part by the Solidarity Center, the panel will discuss how working women are fighting for fair wages and working conditions, equal job opportunities, and freedom from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Panelists include AFL-CIO International Department Director Cathy Feingold, Bangladesh garment worker activist Kalpona Akter and Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
This year’s CSW meeting marks 20 years since the fourth women’s world conference in Beijing, when 189 governments identified and signed an agreement to improve 12 areas key to empowering women, including “the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women.” During the next two weeks, CSW participants will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations. Some 164 countries conducted national reviews of the status of women, and the CSW will review these reports, along with contributions from civil society.
“Governments acknowledge that women’s labor sustains families and nations,” says Lisa McGowan, Solidarity Center senior specialist for gender equality. “It is time that governments step up and devote the full political commitment and resources needed to sustain women, and ensure their labor and human rights.”
Established in 1946, the CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
On Monday, the UN approved a political declaration on the status of women and girls. Union activists and women’s and human rights groups say that the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Political Declaration at UNCSW59 were held in advance, and consultation with civil society was kept to a minimum. As a result, the content of the declaration is not as strong and forward-looking as it could have been.
The change in process has been denounced by nearly 1,000 organizations, including Public Services International (PSI), Education International (EI), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Canadian Labour Congress. Historically, the CSW has adopted declarations or “agreed conclusions” after a two-week session that includes robust civil society participation.
Other trade union events during the CSW include a discussion on organizing migrant women and decent work for domestic workers, and an event titled “Women and Sustainable Economy from a Human Rights Perspective.” More events here.
Park Hills, Ky., resident and airline pilot Stuart Morrison recently wrote a great op-ed for Cincinnati.com ripping apart the push for “right to work” in his home state by outsiders with an agenda that doesn’t help Kentucky. Take a look.
Next week, Kenton County commissioners intend to vote on a countywide ban on private-sector “agency shop” agreements between unions and employers. Those are labor agreements that require persons who work in organized shops to contribute to the cost of representing them in collective bargaining and contract enforcement. Such clauses are almost uniformly demanded by union members, who resent having to subsidize the representation of employees who choose not to be members….
I appreciate that the commissioner took the time to discuss this matter with me, but I am deeply disturbed that on a significant issue for our citizens, the legal affairs of the county have apparently been outsourced to right-wing advocacy groups. I am equally troubled that the commissioners have not performed any sort of independent investigation on what the economic impact of this new law would be and have not even held hearings on the matter. I recognize that the same anti-union advocacy groups that claim to know Kentucky law better than the state attorney general also produce studies showing the purported benefits to workers of right to work laws, all of which have been discredited. The underlying fact remains that right to work laws are consistently associated with lower family income, lower rates of health insurance coverage and greater dependence on the federal government for assistance.
The Kenton County Commission seems poised to proceed despite the fact that the issue is already the subject of a lawsuit before a federal judge in Louisville following a similar course of action undertaken in Hardin County. I think that before we enact a law it should be accompanied by an independent review of its legality and economic merits by professionals hired by and accountable to those who live here. The fact that this was not done in any meaningful way tells me that the enactment of right to work is not a matter of considered economic or legal policy, but an exercise in raw political payback against constituencies who have chosen not to support the present all-Republican board.
Black History Month is more than just acknowledgement in a newspaper or a special program at your children’s school. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how far black people in the United States have come in their struggle for justice and equal rights, while not forgetting the scores of women and men whose lives have been destroyed by our biased judicial system. The mass criminalization of millions of men and women, mostly people of color who are imprisoned for small infractions, creates a group of second-class citizens who are unable to rebuild a life for themselves even after serving their time.
In 2013, the labor movement passed a resolution recognizing that mass incarceration has become a big business whose product is low wages and ruined lives, and we decided that it’s time for labor to join forces with our allies in the criminal justice community and fight back. Together we are working toward achieving a reformed criminal justice system that offers formerly imprisoned people an economic path forward and restores voting rights—and we are already winning battles. Last year, California passed Prop. 47, a ballot measure that reduced the classification of some low-level nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The crimes covered by the proposal include things like minor drug possession and petty theft, minor offenses that should not define or destroy an individual’s life.
Mass incarceration is not only a civil rights issue, it’s an economics issue. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka traveled to Los Angeles before Prop. 47 passed to shed some light on the situation. He noted that one-third of African American men will serve time in federal prison during their lifetime. That’s an incarceration rate five times greater than that for white men, even though studies have shown that white men and black men commit crimes at roughly the same rates. Once those men and women get out of prison, they have a harder time finding employment and housing due to their arrest records.
The labor movement is a movement of second chances and firmly believes our criminal justice system needs to offer people another chance to contribute to our society. The AFL-CIO staunchly opposes harmful policies like mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes and we support programs that help people reintegrate into their communities, such as job training, education, probation and parole. If we are going to raise wages for all workers, we have to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at earning a wage.
Black History Month might be coming to an end, but the struggle to ensure that African Americans have a fair shot lasts until there is equity in our criminal justice system. Let’s focus on ensuring that every member of our communities has a shot at charting his or her own path forward. It’s time for us to wake up, come together and strive to create a criminal justice system that works.
If you’re not sure what Fast Track is, check out the video above where AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains it quite simply. If you need a more in-depth primer, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) provides one. Meanwhile, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) is holding meetings across the country to try to convince members of Congress that Fast Track is wrong for the country. And the more we look at what TPP might turn out to be, we find out that it has elements like Investor-State Dispute Settlement or that it won’t require potential members to comply with international labor rights.
If you think this doesn’t sound like what working families or America’s economy need right now, sign the AFL-CIO’s petition opposing Fast Track.
Mark Twain famously noted, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The current efforts to roll back the ability of working people to counterbalance the corporate domination of America’s politics is firmly rooted in the initial corporate opposition to the Wagner Act of 1935 that finally assured American workers the right to organize and bargain for wages and working conditions. Among those early efforts to reduce the strength of unions was an effort led by Vance Muse.
Muse, a Texas oil man, didn’t like unions and he really didn’t like the shape the union movement was taking in the 1930s. Large industrial unions like the UAW and the United Steelworkers were growing with white and black workers. Turns out Muse represented the old-line plutocrats’ views on economics and race. His view of this new-found economic “brotherhood” was: “From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”
In 1946, his extremism led to an expose by journalist Stetson Kennedy. He reported in Southern Exposure that Mrs. Muse drove home the couples’ views on race when she addressed “Eleanor Clubs.” Rumors had circulated throughout the South of Eleanor Clubs—supposed organizations of Black domestic servants seeking better wages and working conditions, named after Eleanor Roosevelt for her leadership on race and worker justice. The clubs never existed—they were just figments of racist imaginations like Mrs. Muse’s. She said:
“$15 a week salary for all ni–er house help, Sundays off, no washing and no cleaning upstairs.” As an afterthought she added, “My ni–er maid wouldn’t dare sit down in the same room with me unless she sat on the floor at my feet!”
Muse led the efforts of the “Christian Americans” to pass state-level legislation to limit the growth and strength of unions, first in his native Texas, and then throughout the South.
To make it sound more modern and familiar, the movement went to Kansas in the 1950s, where the “right to work” movement was led by Fred Koch, a co-founder of the John Birch Society, and precursor of the Koch brothers. Kansas passed its right to work law in 1958.
The result has been two America’s when it comes to the right of workers to organize and have an organized voice in the political process: one free, the other fettered and chained to one-sided politics. But for African Americans, it has been another hurdle to decent pay and work conditions.
The America that is hemmed in by right to work laws is home to more than half the African American workforce. Those states have the lowest share of workers in unions, much lower than the national average. Yet because African Americans are the group most likely to belong to unions, it is clear the lower union density for African Americans in right to work states reflects legal barriers, not workers’ wishes.
African Americans are strong supporters of unions because of the gains they enjoy through union membership. Work by Janelle Jones and John Schmidt at the Center for Economic and Policy Research highlights that compared with similarly educated workers in the same industry and state, black union members receive 15.6% higher pay than nonunion black workers; they are also 36.7% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 49.1% more likely to have an employer-provided pension plan.
The nefarious nexus of racism and right to work laws cannot be easily dismissed. Researchers David Jacobs and Marc Dixon find a strong link between racial divisions among workers and politicians feasting on this to pass right to work laws. Researcher Gilbert Gall analyzed the voting patterns in Missouri’s 1978 attempt at right to work and found a strong opposition vote in urban, black districts. So the division is not necessarily a divide on how black workers see unions, as much as it is whether votes are driven by the same plutocratic ploys of subliminal racism linking conservative plutocrat “values” to right to work.
In its modern form, this is often an appeal to Libertarian individualism, unions being the antithesis, while corporations (organized capital) somehow embody individualism. It’s an old trick. And falling for it only dooms one to ignore history.
A New Jersey Superior Court Judge has taken Gov. Chris Christie to task in a ruling that forces him to contribute his share to the New Jersey state pension system, just as public workers have been doing all along.
Judge Mary Jacobson ruled earlier this week in favor of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and 16 unions who sued Christie for violating his own 2011 pension reform law by intentionally shorting the system. The judge ordered Christie to make a $1.6 billion payment to the pension system this year.
Public-sector workers accepted steep increases in their health care and pension costs in 2011 in exchange for a promise that the state would start paying what it owed. Retirees gave up cost of living adjustments in exchange for the security of knowing their benefits would continue to be there. Public workers have never skipped their contribution. The governor is the only one who has not lived up to the deal. It’s as if he is intentionally trying to bankrupt the system to force public workers into 401(k)s.
Christie’s lawyers argued that the 2011 law—which the governor initiated, promoted and signed – was unconstitutional. It was an argument that bewildered virtually everyone, including the judge, and proved beyond doubt that Christie has no credibility on the issue.
Now he’s at it again. In an otherwise empty budget address, the governor proposed … wait for it … putting the squeeze on public worker benefits again. As New Jerseyans can clearly see, the governor has been blinded by his own political ambitions and hasn’t been acting in the state’s best interest for a very long time. Christie touted the 2011 pension reform law as a landmark achievement that would ultimately save the state pension system. Instead of blaming public workers for a problem they didn’t create, we’re asking that the governor live up to the law he signed and fully fund pensions.
Charles Wowkanech is the president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO.
Late Wednesday night, the Wisconsin state Senate voted 17–15 to advance a “right to work” bill that has been widely criticized as harmful to the working families of the state. Thousands rallied outside the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday in opposition to the legislation, as similar laws have been shown to have widespread negative effects in the other states that have passed them. Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.
Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, expressed dismay over Republicans ignoring the will of the people:
Republican senators clearly weren’t there to listen to their constituents or vote in the best interests of all Wisconsinites. With out-of-state special interests calling the shots, Wisconsin citizens get left behind. Right to work is a continuation of the destructive policies of the Scott Walker administration that have cost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale echoed those comments:
Despite hours and hours of testimony on how right to work will lower wages, increase workplace deaths and erode the base of the middle class by crippling the ability of workers to team up and join together through their unions for a strong voice in the workplace, Republican senators rammed right to work legislation through the Senate in a disheartening move to democracy.
Wisconsin’s working families aren’t allowing Walker and his allies to silence them. They will rally again on Saturday at noon to make sure their voices are heard and will be out in force for a scheduled committee meeting on Tuesday and an expected floor vote in the Assembly on Thursday.
State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) summed up the effects of the bill: “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.” UAW member John Drew condemned the legislation as “a political attack on labor, dressed up as an issue of worker freedom. They want to beat us down, brothers and sisters. This is politics, pure and simple.”
Republican leaders couldn’t even convince all of the members of their own party of the merits of the legislation. State Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R) voted against the bill: “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.” He was the only Republican who stood and spoke in support of the legislation. The public wasn’t convinced, either. More than 1,750 Wisconsinites submitted comments or registered to speak against the bill at the hearing. Only 25 were in favor.
Unions representing Wisconsin’s professional athletes also weighed in, opposing right to work. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a strong statement:
The NFL Players Association stands together with the working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against current attacks against their right to stand together as a team.
Devoted food and commercial workers who spend their Sundays servicing our players and fans at Lambeau Field will have their well-being and livelihood jeopardized by right to work. Governor Scott Walker may not value these vital employees but, as union members, we do. We understand how devastating it would be if they lost the ability to have their workplace conditions and wages guaranteed through collective bargaining. We do not have to look any further than our own [collective bargaining agreement] to see that a band of workers, joined together as a union, can overcome decades of poor workplace conditions and drastically improve pensions and benefits.
The Major League Baseball Players Association stands with our brothers and sisters in organized labor and deplores the current attempts in Wisconsin to undermine the collective voices of working people by seeking passage of so-called “right to work” legislation. We are proud to be among the ranks of labor unions that negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for their members, sitting across the table from management as equal parties under the federal law that guarantees the right to union representation. This state legislation is nothing more than an obvious attempt to undermine those rights and that power.
The current bill would impede the ability of working families in Wisconsin to achieve fair collective bargaining agreements with good wages and appropriate on the job protections. “Right to work” is not about freedom, it is about empowering employers at the expense of the employees. Again, we urge a No vote on the current legislation.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state where extremists are pushing right to work legislation in an attempt to silence working families. New Mexico’s legislature is headed down the same destructive path as are several other states.
If anyone needs more evidence why the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement shouldn’t be rushed through Congress on the “Fast Track,” which does not allow any amendments or improvements in the deal—just a take-it-or-leave-it, yes-or-no vote—read Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) column in today’s Washington Post.
While it’s pretty much a given that big corporations—not working people—have been the winners in free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central America Free Trade Agreement over the years, Warren exposes a frightening tool in the TPP that gives corporations unimaginable power over the United States’ legal system. Here’s how she describes the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS, provision.
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and to potentially pick up huge payouts from taxpayers—without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require America’s taxpayers to cough up millions—and even billions—of dollars in damages.
But that’s not the worst of it, she writes. The panel of arbitrators wouldn’t employ independent judges. Nope.
Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?
We know how that would turn out.
Here’s an example of how ISDS works, but keep in mind only international investors—by and large big corporations—get to use the special tribunals:
So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.
As Warren points out, ISDS is not a partisan issue: “Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal.” For all of us.