Trumka Sets the Record Straight on Fast Track

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sets the record straight when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Fast Track in this short audio clip. If you want to know what’s really happening on the trade front, give it a listen.

 

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO Pushes Back Against Citigroup’s Influence in Washington

At today’s Citigroup shareholder meeting in New York City, AFL-CIO Office of Investment Director Heather Slavkin Corzo challenged the Wall Street bank’s influence in Washington. At the meeting, Corzo introduced a proposal to require disclosure of Citigroup’s government service golden parachutes.

As an investor in Citigroup, the AFL-CIO asked the company last November to explain why the company pays golden parachutes to executives who take jobs with the government. The AFL-CIO filed the shareholder proposal after Citigroup failed to respond to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s letter.

Among Citigroup’s highly placed alumni in Washington are Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who received as much as $500,000 worth of stock awards when he left Citigroup for a government job, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman who collected more than $4 million when he joined the Obama administration.

Also on Citigroup’s ballot was a shareholder proposal requesting that the company disclose details of its lobbying efforts. Citigroup one of the biggest Wall Street spenders on lobbying in Washington, and this proposal would ensure transparency to shareholders on these expenditures.

Citigroup’s clout in Washington was on full display last December when the bank helped push through a law that gutted an important provision of the Dodd–Frank Act. The Citigroup-supported bill repealed a requirement for banks to “push out” risky derivatives trading into separate units that are not insured by taxpayers.

The AFL-CIO’s shareholder proposal on government service golden parachutes received 26.4% of the votes cast. The proposal also will go to a vote later this year at J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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150 Workers Will Die Today

Despite significant advancements in workplace health and safety in the 44 years since the Occupational Safety and Health Act become law, today and every day 150 people will be killed on the job or die from job-related illnesses and diseases. That and other sobering statistics about the preventable deaths and injuries workers face each day are in the 2015 edition of the AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect released today.

In 2013 (the latest figures available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) 4,585 workers were killed on the job, and some 53,000 died from occupational diseases. Also, nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries a year. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

No worker should be exposed to fatal injuries and illnesses at work, yet every day 150 men and women die from a work injury or occupational disease. Their deaths remind us that Americans still—in 2015—face too many dangers at the workplace.

The report includes state-by-state profiles of workers’ safety and health and features state and national information on workplace fatalities, injuries, illnesses, the number and frequency of workplace inspections, penalties, funding, staffing and public employee coverage under the OSH Act.

Here are some key facts from Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect:

North Dakota remains the most dangerous state for workers, with an average of 14.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers, more than four times the national average of 3.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. The next deadliest states for workers are Wyoming (9.5), West Virginia (8.6), Alaska (7.9) and New Mexico (6.7).

On the other hand (see graphic above), states with the highest union density are among the safest for workers, with 13 states ranked in the top 20 for both union density and lowest rates of workplace fatalities.

Death on the Job also finds that Latino and immigrant worker deaths, injuries and occupational illnesses are on the rise. In 2013, 817 Latinos died on the job—a rate 18% greater than the national average—and 66% of Latinos killed on the job were immigrants.

In the area of job safety enforcement to ensure employers are not violating workplace safety laws, the report says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) remain underfunded and understaffed.

In addition, penalties for employers who are found to be lawbreakers are weak. The average federal OSHA penalty for serious violations is just $1,972 and the median federal OSHA penalty for worker deaths is only $5,050. Of the 390,000 worker deaths since 1970, only 88 cases have been criminally prosecuted.

Also many important workplace and mine safety rules remain stalled, some due to administration inaction but mainly because of congressional Republican and corporate opposition. For example, in 2013, OSHA issued a rule that would reduce silica dust exposures and strengthen worker protections against silica, which causes lung cancer, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases and silicosis, a debilitating and irreversible lung disease. It is estimated the rule would save some 700 lives a year and prevent 1,600 cases of silicosis annually. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups are lobbying against finalizing this commonsense rule.

You can join the workplace safety by clicking here to sign a petition telling Congress that workers need a stronger silica standard. Read the full Death on the Job report at www.aflcio.org/death-on-the-job.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Raising Wages Is ‘Measuring Stick’ for Presidential Candidate Support, Trumka Declares

As the 2016 presidential battle begins to roll down the campaign trail toward Election Day 18 months from now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The labor movement’s doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages.”

In a live-streamed speech this morning from the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., Trumka said:

We have created an agenda for shared prosperity called raising wages. It will be our inspiration and our measuring stick throughout the presidential campaign.  Raising wages is grounded in a fundamental idea—that we can become a high-wage society, a society in which the people who do the work share in the wealth we create.

He also stressed that the labor movement opposes Fast Track and:

We expect those who seek to lead our nation forward to oppose Fast Track. There is no middle ground, and the time for deliberations is drawing to a close.

Trumka pointed to the skepticism and cynicism many voters feel, especially after nearly two generations national leaders have either “taken steps that worsened inequality or fiddled around the edges, trying to raise wages in an economy fundamentally built to lower wages.”

President Obama has spent much of his presidency getting our nation out of a deep economic crisis. Now we have an economy where GDP is up, and the stock market is up, but wages remain flat—and this has happened again and again since the 1970s. Once again, America is emerging from an economic crisis—but those of us who count on paychecks are not. And that’s not an accident. Workers are being held down on purpose.

He said the decline in wages, soaring corporate profits and booming CEO pay are not the result “of the wandering and clumsy hand of capitalism.” Instead, he said:

Since the 1980s, the growing political power of the wealthiest among us has rewritten our labor laws, our trade laws, our tax laws, our monetary policies, our fiscal policies, our financial regulations…all to push wages down and to increase corporate profits, to put speculation over private investment and tax cuts over public investment.

The results, Trumka said, are runaway inequality, unemployment, falling wages, rising economic insecurity, collapsing infrastructure and deteriorating national competitiveness—all driven by gigantic imbalances in economic and political power.

In the 2016 campaign, “there will be no place to hide for those who aspire to lead America,” he said.

The problems of income inequality and stagnant wages are so clear, so abundant, that only direct, sweeping action to change the rules will put our nation on a fresh path of progress. We are hungry for a path to a prosperous 21st century. And America’s workers know that the first step on that path is raising wages.

But he emphasized that a raising wages agenda is a broad vision that includes earned sick leave, full employment and fair overtime rules for workers. It also includes taxing Wall Street to pay for massive investments in infrastructure and education, so Wall Street serves Main Street, not the other way around and the ability for workers to bargain collectively with employers for good wages and benefits without fear of retaliation.

Any candidate who wants to appeal to workers has to put forth a bold and comprehensive raising wages agenda. They must be committed to investing in a prosperous future for America. They must have an authentic voice and a commitment, from the candidate down through his or her economic team, to see this agenda through to completion.

Read the full address here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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11 Things You Need to Know About Safety for Workers Memorial Day

Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year, the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and pay fair wages and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.

Here are 11 facts about worker safety and health you should know in honor of Workers Memorial Day:

1. In 2013, more than 4,400 workers were killed on the job and more than 50,000 more died from occupational diseases.

2. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 4 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported. Research indicates that the numbers may be underestimated and may actually be two or three times greater than what BLS reports.

3. Certain occupations have much greater risk than others. These include agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, transportation, warehousing, mining and construction.

4. More than 8 million state and local public employees lack the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections while they face a 58% higher injury and illness rate than private-sector workers.

5. Latino workers have a workplace fatality rate 19% higher than the national average. The majority of these workers are immigrants.

6. There is no federal workplace standard (and few state standards) for workplace violence. Meanwhile there were more than 26,000 workplace injuries related to violence in 2013, including nearly 400 deaths. Women workers in health care and social assistance are most likely to face workplace violence.

7. Workplace suicides, many related to toxic work environments and bullying, increased by 8% in 2013.

8. The Occupational Safety and Health Act is more than 40 years old and is out of date. Millions of workers aren’t covered, workers’ rights are limited and penalties for violating the law are weak.

9. OSHA has fewer than 900 inspectors, meaning they can inspect workplaces, on average, once every 140 years. State OSHA inspectors amount to a little more than 1,000, meaning they can inspect workplaces once every 91 years.

10. Many workers face retaliation at work for raising job safety concerns or reporting injuries.

11. Most workplace chemical hazards are unregulated and the rules in place haven’t been updated since 1971.

Find a Workers Memorial Day event near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka Details Labor’s Fight Against Fast Track and Bad Trade Deals

In an extensive interview with Vox.com, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlines the labor movement’s fight against Fast Track, the flaws in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, the trade relationship between the United States and China and the shortcomings and negative impact on the middle class of the nation’s trade policy.

Below are excerpts from the interview. Click here for the full interview.

Fast Track

We’re opposed to Fast Track. It’s too important a decision, and it affects too many lives of too many people for too long to be done in the dark and then plunk something out of the dark, a thousand-page treaty, and say, ‘Vote it up or down with no amendments.’ We think that’s the most undemocratic thing you can do. We think that’s dangerous.

TPP

‘It also fails to help create jobs here because it doesn’t have strong rules of origin,’ Trumka says. In other words, Trumka fears that Chinese companies could put factories in a TPP country like Vietnam or ship raw materials to a TPP country for assembly, which would give China the preferential access to U.S. markets provided by the TPP without having to follow the TPP itself.

It [undermines] things like Buy American policies. Say the taxpayers in Minneapolis decide they want to use their money to do something and they want to make it a Minnesota product, [if] that violates this trade agreement, and it can be negated.

Currency Manipulation

[The TPP] fails to address currency manipulation. Currency manipulation…has or will cost us between 2.3 million and 5.8 millionjobs. China leads that group. Twenty countries have been determined to have manipulated their currency. And yet there’s nothing in the agreement to stop it. So all of the benefits they claim we could get from TPP, even if you assume every one of the benefits is right, could be wiped out the next day by a country manipulating its currency, to negate all this.

Trade

He also says that the AFL-CIO is not opposed to all trade liberalization; rather, they’re opposed to ones they consider detrimental to workers’ interests: ‘We’re opposed to bad trade deals, not trade deals.’

Click here for the full interview.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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11 Ways Big Banks Make Life Harder for Working Families

A new report from the Center for Popular Democracy examines the ways that large financial institutions are helping dismantle the middle class and making life more difficult for working families. The top 10 banks alone bring in some $100 billion in annual profits, and a significant amount of that revenue is generated from sometimes unethical and questionable tactics that working families have a hard time fighting back against.

Here are 11 ways the big banks are making life harder for working families:

1. While 27% of Americans have no or little access to financial services, the big banks are closing local branches, making the problem worse.

2. Banks are pressuring their workers to push customers to purchase services that use predatory banking practices instead of sound financial principles. Quotas drive the process rather than the needs of customers.

3. The large financial institutions are cutting wages, benefits and hours for workers, making it harder for them to serve customers and increasing work-related stress.

4. Core banking activities for the average worker, such as helping people open and manage accounts or plan for retirement or obtain a credit card, are considered low value services by the banks, and they are actively trying to avoid those services in favor of higher profit activities such as mortgages.

5. Workers who can’t fill their quotas for pushing mismatched or predatory products and services are threatened with termination or had their paychecks docked for the amount they fell short of their quotas.

6. Since 2011, 17 lawsuits have been settled by the financial services industry for alleged illegal and unethical business practices. The banks have paid out nearly $46 billion.

7. At least three banks are accused of charging people of color higher interest rates or fees than white borrowers.

8. The big five banks are accused of steering people of color into dangerous subprime mortgages.

9. Two banks have, in the past, maximized their profits off of overdraft fees by posting charges in order of the largest dollar amount first, increasing the likelihood that not only are customers more likely to overdraft their accounts, but more likely to do so multiple times.

10. Three financial institutions were charged with forcing homeowners to buy overpriced property insurance.

11. Nearly one-fifth of employees at the biggest banks reported that more and more jobs had been moved from full-time to part-time.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Stand with Walmart Workers on April 15

While Walmart recently announced that it would raise its minimum wage for many workers, the working families behind the OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart campaigns say that victory, while a start, isn’t enough and that they will continue to call on Walmart to raise wages to a minimum of $15 an hour and offer workers consistent full-time hours. Toward that end, the organizations are standing with fast-food and other low-wage workers across the country on April 15, and they want you to join them in strikes and protests in more than 200 cities in the Fight for $15.

More details:

America can’t build a strong future with poverty wages. When large, profitable companies like Walmart, McDonalds and others hold down wages, benefits and access to hours, it hurts all of us. Ordinary people who work hard are being paid so little that too many can’t afford basics like groceries, rent or transportation. When families are trapped in poverty, the American economy suffers and we, as taxpayers, end up footing the bill. It’s wrong that the 1% of companies like Walmart are rigging the system for their benefit at the expense of workers, our communities, the environment and our economy.

If you would like to participate in one of the events or organize your own event, learn more.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Officials Attempt to Delay Minimum Wage Increase in New Mexico’s Largest County—And Fail

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In 2013, Working New Mexico members fought for a minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County—and won. Bernalillo is the most populous county in the state and includes the city of Albuquerque.

The increase included a cost of living adjustment, but on January 1, 2015 workers were disappointed that the cost of living adjustment had not been implemented. When a reporter spoke with Commissioner Wayne Johnson about the cost of living adjustment not being enforced, he stated it was an oversight by the commission and they were trying to resolve the issue but a resolution might come as late as 2016.

The minimum wage workers would be losing $0.15 per hour. For a full-time worker, that would equal $312 a year, or a week’s worth of pay.  When Commissioner Johnson stated that it was an oversight on part of the Board of Commissioners, Working America members were upset because this meant that they would not have $312 extra this year to help support themselves and their families.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson also said about the delayed increase that the “damage was minimal if any.” This remark was out of step with the realities faced by minimum wage workers in this country.

On January 13, ten of our members attended the County Commissioners meeting and two of our members testified against the delay. They confronted Commissioner Wayne Johnson about his comments.  One of our members explained how this increase would affect him as a minimum wage student worker. Jaen Ugalde said, “$312 could help us pay for a month of rent, or for a portion of our books.” Lorenzo Pino urged the commissioners to vote on the measure that night to bring relief to Bernalillo County’s low-income families.

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Thanks to our members’ presence and heartfelt testimony, the commissioners took action that night, voting 3 to 2 in favor of a minimum wage cost of living adjustment. It will take effect on January 26, 2015. Commissioners Maggie Stebbins, Debbie O’Malley and Art De La Cruz voted in favor. Unfortunately Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert were the two votes against resolving the delayed cost of living adjustment.

By standing together as Working New Mexico, our members shed light on the plight of low wage workers and their families – and won. Without our members’ work, Bernalillo County officials could have easily gotten away with delaying a much needed cost-of-living adjustment. Working New Mexico, a project of Working America, is committed to standing up for our communities and putting the issues of everyday working people front and center—and when possible, forcing our leaders to take immediate action.

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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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