Trumka: Obama ‘Forcefully Advocated for Working Families’ in State of Union

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “President Obama eloquently and forcefully advocated for working families throughout his State of the Union Address,” last night. He also said:

The  president’s focus on raising wages through collective bargaining, better paying jobs, a fairer tax code, fair overtime rules, and expanded access to education and earned leave sent the right message at the right time.

Read the rest of the statement below:

So did his embrace of union apprentices and immigrants who want to achieve the American Dream. The president has again demonstrated his strong commitment to creating an economy that truly works for all working people.

Fighting income inequality is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As Oxfam recently reminded us, the world’s wealth continues to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. If we are serious about solving this monumental challenge, the size of the solutions must meet the scale of the problem. We must have a similarly vigorous response to the barriers to raising wages: our opposition to fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations must be resolute. We can’t face the competitive challenge of China with a trade deal that fails to adequately address currency manipulation, climate change or that gives corporations rights that people don’t have.

Now is the time for politicians to champion a Raising Wages agenda that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. America has now heard what the president thinks about this agenda. We thank the president for his passion and his advocacy. We are ready to see what he and Congress will do about it. That is the ultimate standard of accountability.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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To Represent Their Party Tonight, GOP Chooses ALEC Alum and Koch Ally

Who did the Republican Party choose to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union tonight? Someone who represents the anti-worker, corporate-influenced, Koch-dominated wing of their party: newly-elected Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA).

The network of organizations affiliated with oil billionaires David and Charles Koch spent about $300 million on the 2014 elections. This network includes Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Donors Trust, and a dizzying array of think tanks and astroturf organizations.

The Kochs also heavily fund ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the “Match.com” nonprofit that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists to write “model bills” which are then distributed to pass in state houses. ALEC “model bills” that became law include Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, Michigan’s union-busting “right to work” law, and Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” gun law.

Ernst was one of those state legislators who joined ALEC after her election to the Iowa Senate in 2011. In June 2014, Ernst told a group of Koch-affiliated donors at a closed-door meeting in California: “the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

She wasn’t wrong. Ernst was enormous beneficiary of the Koch network from day one of her campaign, as PR Watch reports:

In her campaign for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat, Ernst was the underdog early in the crowded Republican primary, but soon became the darling of outside spending groups, maintaining a $12 million lead in outside spending over her Democratic opponent into the final weeks of the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A few days after Ernst’s appearance at the Dana Point summit, Charles Koch and his wife, son, and daughter-in-law maxed-out on donations to Ernst, and much of the outside spending supporting Ernst or attacking her opponent came from Koch-tied groups like the 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund, Freedom Partners Action Fund, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Americans for Prosperity.

During the campaign, Ernst’s spokeswoman was Gretchen Hamel, who led the Koch-backed group Public Notice. Once elected, Ernst hired as her Chief of Staff Lisa Goes, a former VP at the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a group which, not coincidentally, ran radio and online ads on behalf of Ernst during the campaign.

So what do the Kochs and their network get for all this support? As a candidate, Joni Ernst opposed raising the minimum wage, and said she considered privatizing Social Security an “option.” She also signed the pledge from super-lobbyist Grover Norquist saying that she would oppose the elimination of tax breaks, including those for companies that ship jobs overseas. In fact, we found it difficult to identify a single policy difference between her campaign rhetoric and the ideas advanced by the Koch brothers’ network.

The selection of Senator Ernst to respond to President Obama on behalf of the Republican Party comes at a time when the Koch network’s political operation is beginning to rival that of the GOP itself. Americans tuning in tonight would be fair in questioning whether Ernst will be representing an opposition political party or the network of donors that, by her own admission, propelled her into the U.S. Senate.

Read more from PR Watch.

Learn more about the Koch network, aka “The Kochtopus.

Learn more about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Photo by areflaten on Flickr

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Trash Haulers Strike and Stand Together, Win New Contract

Trash Haulers Strike and Stand Together, Win New Contract

After a 13-day strike, followed by two meetings with a federal mediator, trash haulers employed by Unity Disposal in Montgomery and Howard counties in Maryland have ratified a new four-year collective bargaining agreement.

The new contract provides immediate pay raises for all Unity drivers and helpers, increases overall paid time off, ensures employees who work extra routes will now get paid more for that extra work, and provides a grievance procedure that puts into writing a fair disciplinary policy. Unity helper Francisco Fuentes said:

We stood up and we insisted that we all be treated with respect and paid fairly. We stuck together, we kept our eyes on the finish line, and we now have a new contract that recognizes the value of the work we do, and allows us to better support our families.

Unity Disposal contracts with Montgomery and Howard counties to provide trash pick-up service to more than 60,000 households.

Read more from LIUNA Mid-Atlantic here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Time to Close Wall Street’s ‘Retirement Advice Loophole’

Alliance for Retired Americans photo

There is a loophole in the rules that govern Wall Street brokers and financial firms that provide retirement investment advice that can drain away thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars of hard-earned savings from a single retirement account. Today, a coalition of senior, union and consumer groups launched a new website—SaveOurRetirement.org—to mobilize support to close the “Retirement Advice Loophole” through a new rule the U.S. Department of Labor is trying to adopt.

The way workers save for retirement has changed dramatically over the past decades. With the decline in traditional pensions, more and more workers depend on 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and they frequently seek investment advice from financial professionals. But the rule governing when that advice must be solely in the worker’s interest, free from conflicts of interest, has not been changed since 1975—and many loopholes exist.

The “Retirement Advice Loophole“ allows Wall Street brokers and financial firms with major conflicts of interest to provide investment advice that serves their own interests instead of what’s best for their clients.

For example, they can sell financial products that pay large commissions but hurt their clients with unnecessary fees, poor returns or excessive risks. Millions of Americans are affected by this loophole every year without even knowing it, and it is draining away their retirement savings.

Right now, some advisers are required to put their customers’ interests first while others are not—and it is often extremely difficult for workers and retirees to know which type of adviser they are dealing with.

The Labor Department rule has been under development for some time but has not been released yet. However, it is expected to require that investment advisers have no conflict of interest that might, for example, cause them to steer their clients toward investments that earn the adviser high fees but might not be in the client’s best interest. The rule should require anyone who gives retirement investment advice to act solely in their client’s best interest—a common sense standard known as the fiduciary duty.

Of course, Wall Street and the financial industry are adamantly opposed to reforming the rules. Two years ago they lobbied hard for a House bill aimed at derailing any new Labor Department investment advice rule, and surely they will be spending big money to do the same thing in 2015.

Be sure to visit SaveOurRetirement.org to learn more and find out how you can help close the “Retirement Advice Loophole.”

The groups in the coalition are the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, AARP, Americans for Financial Reform, Better Markets, Consumer Federation of America and the Pension Rights Center.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working America Health Care has got you covered — before, during and after enrollment

The following post was written by Amy Lynn Smith and was originally posted on Eclectablog

The clock is ticking on 2015 open enrollment for health insurance. With the February 15th deadline approaching fast, the time to act is now if you’re not already covered. But getting health insurance is only the beginning. Then you have to put your benefits to good use.

Working America has got your back. The Working America Health Care program is designed to provide all the support you need before, during and after the process of buying insurance. Plus, when you enroll through the program, you’ll be eligible for a wide variety of additional benefits not available anywhere else — at no extra cost.

According to Tony Cheng, assistant director of Working America, the goal of the program is not only to help people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but to make sure they have a great experience with whatever plan they sign up for.

We’re going at the intent of the law, which isn’t just helping people sign up but helping people lead healthier lives.

We want to be there to help people understand what health care reform really means, helping them sign up for whichever insurance plan meets their needs, and helping them use their benefits after they sign up. We’ll make sure they always have someone on their side.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and Union Plus, which was created by the AFL-CIO to develop consumer benefits, discounts, and services for more than 13 million current and retired union members.

You do NOT have to be the member of any union to take advantage of Working America Health Care, but you’ll automatically become a Working America member if you sign up for coverage through the program.

Through Working America Health Care, consumers are guided through the insurance shopping process by a licensed professional with GoHealth, one of the country’s largest online brokers.

“The reason they’re so good is that they aren’t working on commission, so there’s no pressure to sign up for a particular plan,” says Roland Leggett, Michigan program director for Working America. “They’re only there to make sure you get the best plan for you and your family. It empowers people who need insurance.”

Leggett says it only takes about 30 minutes to go through the enrollment process, although you can take time to weigh your options before completing your enrollment. Every step of the way, you’ll have expert guidance to help you navigate the sometimes confusing process of buying health insurance.

“We want to help people understand what the ACA means, what to look for when they sign up — how to keep their doctor if they want to, or the additional costs involved in each plan, such as co-pays and deductibles,” says Cheng. “We want to help folks understand the big picture.”

Once enrollment is complete, Working America provides access to an independent, personal health care advocate who can help you coordinate your care, resolve claims and answer questions about coverage.

Leggett explains:

Especially if you’ve never had insurance before, you may need help navigating the system. Your health advocate can answer questions about coverage and claims, and help you negotiate medical bills. There’s even a union nurse available by phone to help you decide what kind of care you need if you’re sick.

Working America Health Care also provides vision and dental discounts, which are a great resource if you don’t purchase vision or dental coverage — but the discounts apply even if you do. These discounts can save you up to 60 percent on dental care and up to 35 percent on vision exams and glasses.

What’s more, through Union Plus you’ll be eligible for a wide range of other discounts on everything from health club memberships to mortgage assistance, and much more.

You’ll also become part of the Working America family, which connects you to the work they’re doing to lift up the middle class through efforts such as raising the minimum wage, funding education and holding politicians accountable. As Leggett says, “We’re empowering folks to be part of the political process.”

Right now, Working America Health Care has an on-the-ground presence in 17 cities, including Detroit, where it goes out into communities through a variety of events and partnerships, reaching out to union members, small businesses and individuals. Assistance is also available by phone or online nationwide.

After open enrollment concludes on February 15th, Working America Health Care will continue assisting people who are eligible for a special enrollment period due to a life change such as getting married or changing jobs.

“We can help people see if choosing a plan through the ACA might make more sense than using COBRA coverage to address a gap in coverage,” says Cheng. “And we’re talking all the time to early retirees who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare, and young people when they turn 26 and are no longer eligible for coverage on their parents’ plan.”

Both Cheng and Leggett urge anyone who still needs to enroll in coverage to do it now. Rather than waiting until the last minute, give yourself plenty of time to make the best decision for yourself and your family, says Cheng.

Our goal is first to make sure people know what’s available, and then to make sure they know how to use their health care after they sign up.

But we also want to make sure we’re moving forward in terms of health reform. Health care is a basic right and it’s under attack. If we don’t use it we lose it. We want to make sure people understand what’s at stake and are signing up.

Get started with Working America Health Care today! Call 855-698-2479 or visit the Working America Health Care website. Remember: 2015 open enrollment ends February 15th.

Follow Amy Lynn on Twitter at @alswrites

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We Have A Plan To Make Health Insurance Easy To Understand

 photo UPWorkingAmerica-247jpg.jpg

We all worked incredibly hard to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, and we’re proud to now see millions of Americans accessing high quality, affordable health insurance–many of them for the first time.

But some things haven’t changed. For many Americans, navigating their health insurance is just as complex and frustrating as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. At Working America, we wanted to make sure that information and support before, during, and after enrollment was available to out more than 3 million members–and anyone else who needed it.

That’s why we created Working America Health Care.

By enrolling through Working America Health Care, you have access to licensed professionals that can connect you to almost all the health plan options on the Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Healthcare.gov). But for no additional cost, you also have access to hundreds of benefits available through our partners at Union Plus, including dental and vision discounts.

Most importantly, when you enroll in the Marketplace through Working America Health Care, you have access to a personal Health Advocate: a real person you can call to help navigate the complexities of your health insurance. For no additional cost.

Enrolling through us also makes you a member of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO and the fastest growing organization for working families. Since our creation in 2003, we’ve successfully helped raised the wages of millions of workers, passed paid sick days laws and other worker protections, and helped elect dozens of pro-worker local, state, and federal candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Mark Dayton, and Jeff Merkley.

And yes, this program is open to anyone who does not have a union on the job. That includes folks who are freelancers, unemployed, and retired too.

Want to find out more? Visit our website at workingamericahealthcare.org or call 855-698-2479. We’ll also answer as many questions as possible in the comments.

Bonus: Check out Amy Lynn Smith’s great coverage of Working America Health Care on Eclectablog!

Originally posted on DailyKos

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Delta Flight Attendants File Flight Plan for IAM Representation

IAM photo

Nearly 12,000 Delta Air Lines flight attendants have signed authorization cards seeking union representation by the Machinists (IAM). More than two dozen Delta flight attendants hand-delivered those cards Tuesday to the National Mediation Board’s (NMB’s) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Once the NMB validates those signatures—expected in about four to six weeks—the agency will set an election date for the airline’s 20,000 flight attendants.

Delta Air Lines flight attendant Gabe Perez, who has been with the airline for 35 years, said:

We are the reason Delta is the world’s most profitable carrier and leads the industry in almost every financial and operational measure. Yet, we lag the industry in wages, benefits and work rules. That will change once we win our election and negotiate the industry-best contract we deserve.

IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger, who accompanied the flight attendants to the NMB, called it “an historic day for these courageous flight attendants.”

IAM General Vice President Sito Pantoja called the flight attendants:

an inspiration to the entire labor movement. The IAM will make every effort to ensure that they achieve their goal of negotiating an industry-leading contract.

For more information, visit www.iamdelta.net.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) supports the Delta flight attendants campaign to win a voice with the IAM and says a victory would lift standards for all flight attendants. AFA-CWA and Delta flight attendants were unsuccessful in a previous election that was held under different NMB rules.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What Are Republicans After for Social Security? Cuts

AFGE photo via Flickr

We told you how Republican House members last week went after Social Security on their very first day at work. Some 11 million people who receive Social Security disability benefits could see their benefits cut by 20% in 2016 and cuts to Social Security retirement benefits for everyone could also be in store. Here’s what some other folks have to say about that and other attacks Republicans may launch against Social Security.

The coalition Social Security Works says last week’s action barring transfer of funds from the Social Security Retirement Trust Funds to the Social Security disability program—known as reallocation—unless taxes are raised or benefits are cut is “stealth attack on America’s working families.”

Like other stealth attacks against the American people’s Social Security, the groundwork is being laid in advance. It will suddenly explode sometime in the next two years. The rule change would prohibit a simple reallocation! It will require more significant and complex changes to Social Security. In other words, the Republican rule will allow Social Security to be held hostage….Hostage-taking to force changes that the American people do not want to a vital program like Social Security is no way to run the United States of America.

Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says:

By barring the House from approving a “clean” reallocation in 2016, the rule will strengthen the hand of lawmakers who seek to attach harsh conditions (such as sharp cuts in eligibility or benefit amounts) to such a measure.

Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said:

It is hard to believe that there is any purpose to this unprecedented change to House rules, other than to cut benefits for Americans who have worked hard all their lives, paid into Social Security and rely on their Social Security benefits, including Disability Insurance, in order to survive.

Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America’s Future asks on Huffington Post, “Why are they doing this?”

Undoubtedly, one reason is to please campaign contributors. Wealthy individuals, like conservative billionaire hedge-funder Pete Peterson, are committed to gutting the program. Many defense contractors and Wall Street firms are involved in the campaign to cut Social Security through a group called ‘Fix the Debt,’ despite the fact that Social Security doesn’t contribute to the federal debt. (Ironically, all of these firms have benefited greatly from public expenditures.) What’s their motivation? Among other things, Social Security cuts would ensure that they’re not asked to pay more in taxes.

And then there’s this scary reminder from Eric Laursen at AlterNet, “Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is now chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.”

This makes him an even bigger force on Social Security policy than he was as Budget Committee chair, when he repeatedly called for hobbling the program….With Ryan heading up their response, the Republicans are more likely to insist on drastic changes to the entire program.

Looks like they’ve already started.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Van Hollen Offers Battle Plan to Combat Income Inequality

Van Hollen Offers Battle Plan to Combat Income Inequality

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) unveiled a new plan today to address the large and growing problem of income inequality that he says, “attacks the chronic problem of stagnant middle-class incomes from both directions: it promotes bigger paychecks and lets workers keep more of what they earn.”

His plan would create or expand tax breaks for child care, apprenticeship programs, middle-class working couples, those who save for retirement and companies that raise workers’ wages, while at the same time scaling back the tax break corporations currently claim for CEO bonuses. Van Hollen said his proposals are fully paid for with a “high-rollers fee” on Wall Street.

We can pay for these new tax benefits for working Americans by changing the ways our current tax code is rigged in favor of those who make money off of money and against those who make money from work.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Van Hollen for “showing the kind of leadership that has become far too rare in Washington, D.C., today. Many of the policy prescriptions he outlined today are part of the blueprint to seriously addressing income inequality.” He also said:

A modest Wall Street speculation tax, or ‘high-roller fee’ as Rep. Van Hollen has proposed, will help curb harmful Wall Street practices and raise billions of dollars annually. These are critical funds that could pay for infrastructure and education to lay the foundation for long-term productivity growth. Additionally, Rep. Van Hollen is absolutely right to deny tax breaks for ridiculous, out of control CEO pay—they don’t need any more handouts.

Read more about the Van Hollen plan from Alice Ollstein at Think Progress.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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