10 Important Initiatives Coming Out of the AFL-CIO National Convention

The AFL-CIO quadrennial 2013 convention in Los Angeles was a flurry of exciting activity that promises to remake the labor movement in the United States and build a movement for all working people to deal with the new challenges and political landscape working families must navigate. While there were many important discussions and plans made at the convention that will be expanded on in the coming months and years, here are 10 important initiatives that came out of the resolutions passed by the convention delegates that you should know about:

1. Opening Up and Broadening the Labor Movement: The delegates recognized the need to expand the labor movement to be more broad and inclusive and to recognize all working families, whose rights have been under assault. No fewer than six resolutions were passed to expand the labor movement and partner with allies in new ways. The first invites every worker in America to join the labor movement, either through affiliate unions or through Working America. Another one provides for supporting political campaigns that protect and expand workers’ rights to organize. A third related resolution calls for expanded efforts to help workersorganize around the globe. Other areas of renewed focus would be on organizing in the southern United States, in building lasting community partnerships with organizations that share our values and expanding and protecting voting rights so working families have a say in choosing those who pass laws that affect their rights.

2. Economics for Shared Prosperity: The convention delegates approved several resolutions that call for new ways of thinking and talking about the economy, moving away from the conservative, pro-corporate way of discussing the economy. The first initiative calls for an economics of shared prosperity, which focuses on creating living wage jobs for all who seek them, providing workers a voice on the job, health care for everyone, aging with dignity, jobs that support families and high-quality education for all children. The AFL-CIO also has committed to creating a curriculum and training program to teach working families how to talk about the economy in more accurate terms that don’t let pro-corporate interests drive the conversation. The federation also supports policies that will fix the parts of the economy that are having the biggest negative impact on working families. This resolution called for legislation that would create good jobs, improve economic security for all of America’s workers and make the tax system more fair through requiring Wall Street and the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share. Another resolution supported by the delegates focuses on the need to raise wages if we want to fix what is wrong with our economy, and lays out a broad agenda of efforts at the federal, state and local levels that aim to raise wages and labor standards for everyone who works in America.

3. A Road Map to Citizenship for Aspiring Americans: At the convention, the AFL-CIO recommitted to its ongoing support for and leadership in creating an immigration system that protects U.S. workers, reduces the exploitation of immigrant workers, reduces employers’ incentives to hire undocumented workers, keeps families together, creates a road map for aspiring Americans and contributes to shared prosperity for all.

4. Embracing and Including the Diverse Workforce: The AFL-CIO embraced diversity at its convention as never before, with people of color and women representing 46% of delegates. An inclusion conference held before the convention kicked off ways to work more closely with communities of color, young workers and the LGBT community. In addition to the resolution on the road map to citizenship for aspiring Americans and the resolutions on expanding the labor movement, the delegates passed resolutions on:

  • Working women: focusing on equal pay for equal work; respect for the balance among work, family and community; forging and expanding partnerships with allies; and increasing equality and building women’s leadership within the labor movement.
  • Young workers: including recognizing the importance of young workers in the current and future economy; expanding young worker programs to all levels of the federation; and giving young workers a seat on the AFL-CIO General Board.

Delegates also voted to add gender identity and gender expression to the federation’s constitutional equality section.

5. Retirement Security for All: With seemingly endless attacks in recent years on retirement security, the AFL-CIO calls for strengthening and improving Social Security benefits, much stronger protections for private and public pension laws and other legislative improvements to laws that protect working families in their retirement years. Any proposal to cut Medicare or Social Security to fund lower taxes for corporations and the 1% is immoral and unacceptable.

6. A New Approach to Trade and Globalization: The convention also passed a resolution calling for improvement in international trade deals, with a focus on protecting workers’ rights around the world, environmental protection, preventing corporations from interfering with national sovereignty and public interest regulations and making it clear that the AFL-CIO would oppose trade deals that don’t live up to these ideals.

7. Opposing Mass Incarceration for Profit: The AFL-CIO recognizes that the private prison industry, which pushes for laws that increase incarceration rates so they can pad their profits, creates negative incentives for state and local governments to lock up more people, even when crime rates are low. Such policies also harm communities, are unsafe for both inmates and prison employees and have a strongly disproportionate effect on people of color.

8. Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education: As a key component of any strategy of improving the lives of working families, the AFL-CIO supports a broad range of educational reforms that ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend safe, high-quality schools. The delegates also condemned the attacks on public education by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D).

9. Implementing the Affordable Care Act: The convention delegates passed a resolution that supports the responsible implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the protection of workers’ rights in any health care changes made by government or private corporations, and continues to support the ultimate goal of a single-payer system.

10. State Federation, Central Labor Council and Affiliate Accountability: Because of the importance of effective state federations, central labor councils (CLCs) and affiliates in fighting back against right-wing attacks in the states and the possibilities for expansion of workers’ rights at the state level, the AFL-CIO is moving forward on several initiatives to maximize efforts in the states. The first is to require state federations and large CLCs to hire qualified campaign managers and develop and implement strategic plans that include community engagement programs. The second is to create a special committee that will develop and monitor the performance of state federations, CLCs and affiliate unions. Each year, 10 states will undergo a thorough peer review and the findings and recommendations of the review will be reported.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Watch the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention

For those who followed the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention online this past week, here is full video coverage of the proceedings from Sunday to Wednesday, including speeches from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and more. Watch Trumka’s speech in this blog post, then click here to access the rest of the videos.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka, Shuler, Gebre Elected to Lead AFL-CIO

New AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre

Delegates to the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention today elected a trio of top officers to lead the labor movement to become, said re-elected AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “the movement America needs us to be and we must be.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler was elected to a second term and, in a classic American success story, Tefere Gebre, a 45-year-old Ethiopian political refugee who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, was elected executive vice president.

In his acceptance speech, Trumka, a Pennsylvania coal miner who rose to the presidency of the Mine Workers (UMWA) and then served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer until his election to the top post in 2009, called himself “an example that a man or woman can be carried far by those who came before.”

He spoke of his grandfathers who were UMWA organizers, his coal mining father who also served as a union officer and “the union brothers and sisters who showed me the ropes, who taught me about life and unionism, who stood strong with me when I was too young to even know what it meant to stand.”

Noting that many of the union members in the convention hall and around the nation share similar legacies and owe much to those who came before them in the labor movement, he said:

It is a gift we can only repay by giving it all—and more—to those who come along with us and after us. That is why we are building a stronger, broader movement. We have a responsibility to lift others up, to give to those in need in this generation and in future generations what has already been given to us. And more.

Shuler’s union career began with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Portland, Ore., and she has served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 2009.

She said that strengthening the AFL-CIO’s finances—with transparency and accountability—was her major goal when she took office and, like the federation’s affiliated unions, the AFL-CIO would have to tighten its belt.

So we scrutinized our finances to the smallest detail. We made tough choices and set priorities. The result is, as of the latest fiscal year, we have a balanced budget. The result is a $22 million turnaround in our net assets….Of course, we are nowhere out of the woods yet. We know there will be challenges ahead.

Shuler also said that developing and launching the long-term campaign to redefine how the public sees unions has made progress and “we must move it forward.” The most rewarding—and challenging—part of her job for the past four years, she said, has been engaging young workers in the labor movement and giving them “a sense of belonging and ownership.”

I don’t have the words to fully describe the feeling when you see the light in a young person’s eyes when they realize that their desire to be part of something bigger than themselves is within reach, when they see that they have power. Let’s harness that power and bring the old school and new school together in solidarity.

Prior to his election, Gebre—a former director of government relations of Laborers (LIUNALocal 270 and a member of the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and IBEW—served as the executive director of theOrange County (Calif.) Labor Federation. He was also executive director of Frontlash, the first youth and college arm of the labor movement.

At 14, after walking across the African desert from his native Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan to “escape the horrors of war and a brutal military government,” Gebre said he won a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to America as a political refugee.” He told the convention delegates:

At the tender age of 15, I started a brand-new life in this ‘City of Angels’….This is not just my story. It’s a story of millions who proudly call America home. Documented or undocumented, the immigrant story is what makes this country of ours so special.

Gebre made a commitment to work with the state federations and central labor councils:

To my brothers and sisters in local labor movements, state federations and CLCs, I am one of you. I know how hard your job is, and how important your role is. Each of us has the responsibility to convene the labor movement in our own communities—across unions and sectors and to work in real partnership with allies in the community….I pledge to you that I will always be there to listen, advise and help our CLCs and state federations be the best we can be.

Click here to read more about Gebre.

Photo by @RickEiden on Twitter

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Action Session Explores Models for Alternative Membership to Broaden Labor Movement

A central theme of this year’s convention is building a broader, more inclusive labor movement to better support all workers, both union and nonunion. As attendees of the action session “Anyone Can Join and Everyone Should: Models for Alternative Membership” learned this afternoon, associate membership can be a powerful tool to achieve that goal.

Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is giving workers all over the country who don’t have a union on the job a voice and an opportunity to stand together to improve their lives. Working America Organizing Director David Wehde moderated a lively panel discussion on how unions are opening new doors for workers through new organizing models, including associate membership programs.

The AFT is giving teachers in the southern United States, where collective bargaining rights are limited or nonexistent, a pathway to joining a union through an innovative program. The union is reaching out to teachers in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia to offer associate membership on an individual basis, which opens the door to the creation of chartered locals. These locals give teachers a powerful voice to advocate for policies that enhance public schools.

Ann Mitchell, assistant to AFT president for service coordination, says that in Texas the program now has associate members in 661 of 1,033 school districts statewide, showing that even in the toughest of political environments, workers are finding ways to join together with the support of unions like AFT.

The Ironworkers have partnered with Working America to offer associate membership to help give nonunion workers important protections on the job and provide a pathway to union membership.

Ironworkers Chief of Staff Bernie Evers details the union’s effort:

We will have meetings once a month (for associate members). The first part of the meeting focuses on rights on the job. The second part of the meeting addresses issues workers face in their communities. We want these workers to know that we’re there for them, even if they haven’t yet had the opportunity to join our union.

In New Mexico, nonunion workers in the film industry have banded together through the Reel Working America program, creating a powerful new advocacy group to take action on workers’ issues.

The group now has more than 1,000 members, and more than 20% of those members are so engaged they turn out for actions to advocate for policies that would benefit New Mexico’s growing film industry, says Jon Hendry, president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor and business agent at Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)Local 480.

While associate membership programs don’t replace traditional organizing, Wehde of Working America says bringing workers into the labor movement on this path often opens the door for organizing down the road. For example, Working America’s FixMyJob.com website provides workers with useful resources if they’re having an issue on the job, but it also connects them to organizing tools. Associate membership also provides unions an opportunity to stay in touch with laid-off workers or workers who voted for a union in a losing election.

Associate member programs are growing by leaps and bounds as more workers see the value in joining together. And Working America and other programs are growing the labor movement while making it more inclusive.

Says Wehde:

It’s an entry point. We can start the conversation and look for people who are interested in organizing. It’s a flexible model, and we’re open to trying new things to see what works best.

By Steve Smith, California Labor Federation – Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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A Safe Job Is Every Worker’s Right

A safe job is a fundamental workers’ right. It doesn’t matter whether you work in a coal mine, a classroom, a construction site, a hospital or a garment factory in Bangladesh or China, every worker should be able to go to their job and return home safely at the end of the day.

“But in too many workplaces around the world, employers’ push for production and profits and disregard for workers’ safety puts workers’ lives in danger,” state AFL-CIO delegates in a convention resolution on worker safety. This is why the AFL-CIO, along with its allies—safety and health activists and advocates, family members, worker centers, public interest organizations—commit to seek stronger safety and health protections and rights for all workers.

This past April, the horrifying collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which housed five factories making garments for U.S. and European retailers, highlighted the urgent need to address workplace safety issues. Cracks in the building had been discovered, because of illegal and shoddy construction, making it unsafe. But workers were told to return to work or lose their month’s pay. Soon after, the building collapsed, killing 1,129 workers, mostly women, and injuring hundreds more. Just months earlier, 112 Bangladeshi workers were killed in a fire, trapped behind locked doors at the Tazreen garment factory, another producer for global retail chains.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and an advocate for garment factory workers, said at the convention:

In the USA, you had events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that happened over 100 years ago. You still have workplace disasters, but you have made it clear here that industry does not have to be that way. If workers organize unions and know their rights and laws, and government does its job, industry can be held accountable.  Workers can produce without risking health and life. The economy can grow and workers can share in this prosperity.

In the United States,  in recent years alone, the lack of safety protections is costing workers their lives. In 2010, 29 coal miners died in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, a company with a history of serious mine violations and deaths. A few weeks later, an explosion at the BP Gulf Coast oil well killed 12 workers and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. This past April, 15 people died in an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant that processed and stored highly dangerous chemicals. The plant was small and not covered by many chemical safety regulations and had never been inspected  by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). And in June, 19 firefighters died in a massive wildfire in Arizona when they were trapped behind the fire line when the wind shifted; with no way to escape. This was the worst firefighter tragedy since the collapse of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Even though the union movement’s advocacy in workplace safety standards has made significant improvements for workers—since the passage of the landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mine Safety and Health Act, the job fatality rate has been cut by more than 80%—out of date workplace safety laws and underfunded enforcement, coupled with eight years of neglect and hostility under the Bush administration, has taken its toll.

Fortunately, under President Obama, we are starting to make progress on workplace safety issues.

Strong, committed advocates have been appointed to lead the job safety agencies. Both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have stepped up enforcement, particularly for employers who have a history of serious and repeated violations. The agencies have increased focus on protecting workers’ rights with enhanced whistle-blower protection programs and policies to protect workers who report job hazards or job injuries from retaliation. And education and outreach, particularly for vulnerable workers, has been expanded to help workers exercise their legal rights.

But there is still work to do.

The resolution states the union movement will:

  • Strengthen the OSHA and MSHA laws to cover all workers and all work arrangements, toughen enforcement and provide stronger workers’ rights and anti-retaliation protections, seeking improvements both federally and at the state level.
  • Continue to push the Obama administration to issue needed rules on silica, coal dust, combustible dust, infectious diseases and other hazards, taking legal action when necessary to protect workers’ safety on the job.
  • Continue to challenge employer policies and practices that discourage or retaliate against workers for reporting injuries or hazards and shift blame and responsibility to workers, and instead push employers to reduce exposures to workplace hazards.
  • Oppose the industry assault on regulations and corporate legislative efforts to dismantle our system of regulatory safeguards that protect our health, safety and environment and financial security.
  • Educate workers and union members about job hazards and safety and health rights, and support efforts to organize and take action to improve working conditions.
  • Fight efforts to use international trade agreements to lower safety and health standards and protections, and instead seek to use these agreements and their enforcement as means to raise standards and improve working conditions for all workers.

From the resolution:

And we must and will stop corporations’ endless worldwide drive for cheaper production, lower wages and resulting exploitation of workers. With the global trade union movement and our partners, we will seek strong laws that protect workers’ safety and health and workers’ rights no matter in which country they live or work. We will hold global corporations responsible for their actions and production on their behalf and demand binding enforceable industry agreements that provide workers fair wages, safe working conditions and the right to organize.

Read the full text of Safe Jobs—Every Worker’s Right.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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