The National Labor Relations Board filed an formal complaint yesterday against the retail behemoth Walmart, alleging that the company violated the rights of nearly 70 workers rallying over workplace conditions in 14 states.
The Los Angeles Times reports the complaint, the largest ever against Walmart, refers to charges made in November 2012 during the Black Friday actions by associates speaking out for respect on the job and for Walmart to publicly commit to provide regular hours and a living wage of $25,000 a year. The complaint alleges Walmart illegally fired and disciplined nearly 70 workers in 34 stores.
“Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” says Barbara Collins, a fired Walmart worker from Placerville, Calif., who is one of the workers named in the complaint. “But too much is at stake—the strength of our economy and the security of our families—to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs. Now the federal government is confirming what we already know: We have the right to speak out, and Walmart fired me and my co-workers illegally. With a new CEO taking over in a few weeks, we hope that Walmart will take a new direction in listening to associates and the country in the growing calls to improve jobs.”
Making Change at Walmart reported in a press release:
If Walmart is found liable, workers could be awarded back pay, reinstatement and the reversal of disciplinary actions through the decision; and Walmart could be required to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights. While historic, the complaint alone is not enough to stop Walmart from violating the law. Since the start of the year, Walmart has continued to retaliate against workers who speak out for better jobs.
In other news, the Internet group Anonymous leaked a set of Walmart PowerPoints for managers that included ways to discourage workers from joining a union and how to identify “early warning signs.”
The PowerPoints also detailed legal ways an employer could discourage workers from organizing:
“Walmart’s aggressive anti-worker campaign is real, it is ugly and unnecessary,” says Dominic Ware of Leandro, Calif. (OUR Walmart member and former associate). “Instead of spending money on these misleading and false campaigns to intimidate workers and their rights, Walmart should be focused on publicly committing to improving jobs, raising wages and making sure that workers are able to raise their concerns without fear of illegal retaliation.”
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: California, Corporate Accountability, Los Angeles, NLRB, Rights At Work, Walmart
Common sense tells you don’t put a hazardous chemical storage facility on the banks of a river, a little more than a mile upstream from a drinking water intake that serves more than 300,000 people downstream. So should the law.
But beyond basic common sense, state and federal environmental and safety and health rules should be in place to prevent disasters such as the recent West Virginia chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water of families downstream from a largely unregulated and uninspected toxic chemical facility on the banks of the Elk River.
Not only was Freedom Industries allowed to operate the facility, which stored millions of gallons of various so-called “specialty chemicals” in aging tanks along the river banks, it had not been inspected by state or federal authorities since 2001, according to the Associated Press. When the leak occurred it was neighbors, not the company, who alerted officials.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports:
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials have said that their inspectors investigated the situation at Freedom on Jan. 9—not because of an alert from the company, but after neighbors complained of an annoying chemical odor resembling that of licorice.
The chemical industry and others in West Virginia have a long and successful history of fighting environmental and health and safety rules. But as the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards points out, the West Virginia water disaster is:
The latest in a series of environmental and safety disasters related to shortcomings in federal and state oversight that have often been driven by vociferous industry-funded anti-regulatory campaigns….The public pays the price when the regulatory agencies don’t have the legal tools and funding to do their jobs.
AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario says, “This latest disaster has eerie echoes of the West Texas fertilizer explosion in March 2013—in both cases regulation of the toxic chemicals involved were lacking and there had been no oversight or inspections of the facilities.”
In Charleston, citizens have had their lives upended for days, but thankfully there has been no loss of life. In West, Texas, the damage was more devastating and long lasting with 15 emergency responders killed and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed.
She said the disasters point out the urgent need for stronger protections and greater oversight by state and federal authorities.
This will only happen if citizens and workers come together and demand that their government take action to ensure safe water, clean air and safe workplaces for all.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Corporate Accountability, Public Safety, safety, West Virginia
A quick survey of news clips about Congress from the past year, particularly the U.S. Senate, will yield a lot of this type of phrasing: Bill fails in Senate. Senate can’t agree on new law. Gridlock rules as Senate agreement fails. Bill can’t get the votes to pass the Senate.
So when pollsters go out and ask the American people what they think about Congress, they respond in kind. People overwhelmingly want “less gridlock.” They want politicians of both parties to “work together to find solutions.” 9 times out of 10, this doesn’t happen, which leads to more dissatisfaction.
People, for the most part, are suggesting an incorrect solution because they are presented with an incorrect problem.
In the U.S. Senate, the problem is the radical abuse of the filibuster, mainly by the Republican caucus lead by Mitch McConnell (R-KY). This forces bills to need 60 votes to reach “cloture,” instead of the usual outright majority of 51 votes.
In 1975, Senate rules changed, allowing Senators to enforce a 60-vote threshold without the “talking filibuster” made famous by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the interest of fairness, it’s true that neither party has their hands clean when it comes to use of the filibuster. But sheer numbers show that since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, and especially since President Obama was elected, the 60-vote enforcement has been out of control.
There have been many bills that have received the majority of votes–50, 55, or even 59 votes–in the U.S. Senate that haven’t become law simply because of this procedure. But the headlines make it seem like it’s just a bunch of politicians who won’t agree. Ari Melber wrote this after a filibuster of President Obama’s jobs bill in October 2011:
If you glance at the headlines, though, you’d think the Senate just failed to come up with the votes for this bill. Here are just a few typical (and influential) examples:
OBAMA’S JOBS BILL HITS WALL IN SENATE (WSJ)
JOBS MEASURE IS DEFEATED IN SENATE TEST (NYT)
OBAMA’S JOBS BILL FAILS TO ADVANCE IN SENATE DESPITE WHITE HOUSE PUSH (Fox News)
Political reporters have become so accustomed to the constant abuse of the filibuster, they don’t even lead with the news here: A jobs bill during an unemployment crisis has majority support, but is being blocked from a straight vote.
So in the case of emergency unemployment insurance, a vital lifeline for 1.3 million Americans, including about 100,000 veterans and at least 20,000 recent veterans, let’s not be asking “why can’t they agree” or “why is there gridlock.”
We should be asking why, with long-term unemployment at an all-time high, is this bill not receiving a simple, 50-vote majority up-or-down vote?
Call your Senator now, and tell them to immediately renew unemployment insurance.
Tags: Corporate Accountability, democracy, filibuster, Mitch McConnell, unemployment, unemployment insurance
Everybody knows about exorbitant hospital prices, but data compiled by National Nurses United (NNU) shows that many hospitals, especially the for-profit ones, are price gouging their patients. Many for-profit hospitals, according to NNU, actually charge patients more than 10 times what it costs to provide care.
“Such inflated practices continue to price far too many Americans out of access to needed medical care or expose them to financial ruin,” says NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN. “It’s long past time to rein in the price gouging and recognize that a health care system based on profiteering puts all of us at risk.”
The top 14 U.S. hospitals charge more than $1,000 per every $100 of their actual costs, according to NNU. New Jersey leads the country in hospital costs with Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus at the top, charging $1,192 for every $100 of its costs. The top 100 hospitals nationwide have a charge-to-cost ratio, on average, of 765%, while the national average is 331%.
Many of the most expensive hospitals are owned by two massive hospital corporations, Community Health Systems and Health Management Associates, NNU reports. The two companies are pursuing a merger that NNU says would raise costs even further. For-profit hospitals, in general, charge much more than the national average at 503% of costs. Meanwhile, public hospitals at all levels average 245% of actual costs, more evidence that government-run enterprises often do better than privatized services. Maryland, which NNU says is probably the most regulated state in terms of medical charges, has the lowest average charges.
“The lesson here is that the critical work of real health care reform is far from complete,” Ross says. “As long as our health continues to be held hostage by hospitals and other corporations more focused on profits than care, Americans will be at risk.”
Ross says NNU would continue to stand up for patients:
Nurses will never stop fighting for transformation of our inequitable health care system to one based on patient need and quality care for all. The numbers for bankruptcy and financial ruin from medical bills plummet at age 65, when people qualify for Medicare. The best solution is to expand and update Medicare to cover everyone and take the financing of health care out of the hands of the profiteers.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, Corporate Accountability, Health Care, nurses
The editorial board of the Salem Statesmen Journal, one of the most influential newspapers in Oregon, is not messing around.
Their piece on the coming fight over making Oregon a so-called “right to work” state goes right to the point: this law is bad for Oregon, and the only reason we’re talking about it is because of deep-pocket out-of-state special interests.
Don’t know what a “right to work” law is? The editorial kicks it off with a succinct definition:
Under right-to-work laws, employees in unionized workplaces no longer can be required to pay unions for the cost of being represented. That’s the sum and substance of right to work, in one sentence.
These laws, passed in 24 states, have nothing to do with protecting those who have a job from losing it or granting anyone who needs a job the right to find it. Yet the phrase persists, because political factions that back such legislation aren’t courageous or honest enough to call them what they are.
Right-to-work is a misnomer. If proponents were straight with us, they’d call these transparently vindictive efforts a “Right to Weaken Unions Act” or a “Right to Punish Those Who Oppose Us Measure.” The laws drain money from unions under the guise of creating a more business-friendly environment for states.
As we’ve written, the national “right to work” effort sputtered in 2013. In Oregon, Portland attorney Jill Gilbson Odell is sponsoring a “right to work” initiative intended for the 2014 ballot. “There’s national money to be had,” she told the Associated Press, mentioning “large donors” who would back her. But 2013 saw little movement for Odell’s effort, and popular Gov. John Kitzhaber has already stated his opposition.
Yet Oregon remains a top target for national “right to work” backers. “[It’s] as if a big red X has been affixed to a map of our state by outside influences who have decided in secret that we are to be the next target in their misinformation campaign,” the editorial board writes.
Odell’s claims may indeed pan out, and the anti-worker initiative could get the big dollars it needs to get to the ballot. In that case, the Statesmen Journal has a simple suggestion:
The misinformation campaign is coming. Right-to-work proponents are expecting you to roll over and play dumb. We suggest you sit up and become informed.
Here are some real facts to get you started:
- States with “right to work” laws have lower average wages than free bargaining states. Workers earn an average of $1,500 less annually in “right to work” states.
- Fewer workers have employer-based health insurance in “right to work” states. There are also higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities in these states.
- Research in favor of Oregon’s “right to work” initiative is deeply flawed (and funded by the same donors who are pushing the policy in the first place.)
- Businesses don’t use “right to work” as a primary factor when deciding where to locate.
Learn more about “right to work” laws at WrongforEveryone.com.
Photo by NSNewsflash on Flickr
Tags: ALEC, Corporate Accountability, Oregon, Right to Work, Rights At Work
Today’s jobless workers face new discriminatory barriers to finding work in a broken economy. Some employers won’t consider out-of-work applicants for job openings. And more and more employers run credit checks, leaving long-term jobless workers, who have likely fallen far behind in their bills and seen their credit scores tank, on the streets.
Today Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill to stop employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose their credit history or disqualifying applicants based on a poor credit rating. Says Warren:
Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness—let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills.
Even as the economy is slowly turning around, the recession and financial crisis continue to take a toll on working families. Many of whom are hardworking, bill-paying people who have seen the credit ratings damaged when they or a family member lost a job or a small business and saw the value of their homes plummet. Savings evaporate and payments get missed. Says Warren:
Most people recognize that bad credit means they will have trouble borrowing money or they will pay more to borrow. But many don’t realize that a damaged credit rating also can block access to a job.
While at one time it was common belief that a credit history could provide insight into a perspective employee’s character, Warren says that recent research has shown that an individual’s credit rating has little or no correlation with his ability to succeed at work. A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected personal crisis or economic downturn than a reflection of someone’s abilities.
She also says, “This is one more way the game is rigged against the middle class.”
A rich person who loses a job or gets divorced or faces a family illness is unlikely to suffer from a drop in his or her credit rating. But for millions of hardworking families, hard personal blow translates into a hard financial blow that will show up for years in a credit report.
People shouldn’t be denied the chance to compete for jobs because of credit reports that bear no relationship to job performance and that, according to recent reports, are often riddled with inaccuracies. Click here to become a citizen co-sponsor of The Equal Employment for All Act.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced the bill in the House late last year.
Photo via U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Facebook
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: banks, Corporate Accountability, credit checks, ed markey, Education, Elizabeth Warren, Jeanne Shaheen, Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy, Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, Sherrod Brown, unemployment
That’s the question Nancy Becker, an American employed by Amazon in Germany since 2001, asked as she trekked to Seattle this week to stand up for the rights of workers in the online retailer’s “fulfillment centers.” The centers—little more than warehouses where workers are faced with near-impossible workloads for minimal pay—are the subject of rallies in Seattle and Germany on Monday. Becker traveled from her workplace in Germany, “I’m coming to Seattle to dare Jeff Bezos to try working as a picker for a single week. I’m sure he would not survive.”
In recent months, workers at Amazon’s warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig and Graben in Germany have engaged in a series of rolling strikes. They are hoping to increase pressure on Amazon by sending protesters to the company’s Seattle headquarters, where they were joined by American workers also opposed to the low wages and harsh work conditions that the company’s American warehouses share.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:
We welcome the German Amazon workers and their union, ver.di, to the United States. Just as German workers have stood in support of U.S. workers employed by global corporations, we join your fight for fairness at one of the largest corporate retailers in the world. It’s time that Amazon make good on its obligations to its workers, not just its shareholders and executives, and we will be there in Seattle to make our voices heard.
The complaints about Amazon are pretty similar in both countries: “The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” said Stefanie Nutzenberger, a board member of ver.di, the union representing the German Amazon workers. Instead of classifying fulfillment center workers as retail employees, the company calls them “logistics” workers and then pays them lower rates than they would have to pay retail workers. This misclassification allows the company to claim that it’s paying workers a higher wage for their field than other companies, when the reality is they would have significantly higher wages if correctly classified as retail workers. And despite claims that Amazon has made about safety being a top priority, “Last month, an investigation by the BBC’s “Panorama” program into a U.K.-based Amazon warehouse found conditions a stress expert said could cause ‘mental and physical illness.’”
Workers categorized the conditions similarly:
“The workers are treated more as robots than human,” Markus Hoffmann-Achenbach, an organizer for Ver.di at the Amazon warehouse in the city of Werne, said by email. He was on his way to Seattle to participate in the demonstration.
“As a worldwide company,” Mr. Hoffmann-Achenbach added, “Amazon should treat their workers fairly and with respect in every country. The solidarity of American unions and ver.di, the united services union of Germany, is a sign that social movements are not bounded by national borders and that in times of globalization, the workers worldwide stand together as one.”
Amazon officials seemed to have little sympathy for their own workers:
But Amazon’s German country head Ralf Kleber said the company had no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers and was more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, he told Reuters in an interview last month.
You can almost hear Kleber ending the sentence with a “bah” or a “humbug.”
Photo by jurvetson on Flickr
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, amazon, Corporate Accountability, Germany, international, Richard Trumka, Rights At Work, seattle, solidarity, washington, workplace safety
The wealthiest 1% contributes too little in taxes. Although tax rates have risen on dividends and the top rate on ordinary income increased this year, this point still rings true.
Watch the video to see what Bill Gates and Warren Buffett say in 2005 about their tax rates.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Bill Gates, Corporate Accountability, taxes, Warren Buffett
A new article from the Guardian reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) is planning a significant assault on the rights of working families in 2014 state legislative sessions. Through the Searle Freedom Trust, a foundation it created in 2011, SPN plans to offer sizable grants to supposedly independent, non-partisan think tanks in the states. SPN collected 40 grant proposalsfrom these think tanks and will grant funding through Searle to 20 of them. The proposals are for numerous extreme right-wing policy options, very similar to those proposed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the think tanks already receive funding from the typical extremist anti-working family funders like the Koch brothers.
While SPN claims tax-exempt status that limits their lobbying efforts and the group says that it and the groups it funds don’t engage in lobbying, those claims don’t quite pass a commonsense examination. As the Guardian notes:
Most of the “think tanks” involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of “media campaigns” aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to “advancing model legislation” and “candidate briefings,” in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.
Depending on which 20 proposals it chooses to fund, here are 12 ways that SPN could assault the rights of working families in 2014:
1. Alabama Policy Institute: Requested $25,725 to fund the “spark plug” for eliminating the state income tax. Such a plan would lead to the cutting of services for working families. (Also requested for tax cuts or elimination: Advance Arkansas Institute, $35,000; Georgia Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Nebraska’s Platte Institute for Economic Research, $25,000; New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, $30,000; Ohio’s Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, $40,000; and Opportunity Ohio, $35,000).
2. Delaware’s Caesar Rodney Institute: Requested $36,000 to fund strategies to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which would lower wages for working families.
3. Florida’s James Madison Institute: Requested $40,000 to fund efforts to promote vouchers (which they call Education Savings Accounts), which would reduce funding for public schools. Lower public education funding would lead to worsening student performance and teacher layoffs. (Also requested on this topic: Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute, $40,000.)
4. Georgia Center for Opportunity: Requested $65,000 to fund opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would mean fewer residents have health care. (Also requested on this same topic: North Carolina’s J.W. Pope Civitas Institute, $46,500; Texas Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Utah’s Sutherland Institute, $50,000.)
5. Illinois Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to fight to change Chicago’s public employee pension system to a defined-contribution plan, which would mean less retirement security for working families. (Also requested on cutting public employee pensions: Arizona’s Goldwater Institute for Public Policy, $40,000; Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment, $40,000; Missouri’s Show-Me Institute, $25,000; Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation, $35,500.)
6. Maryland Public Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to push for cuts in corporate tax rates, which would lead to the cutting of services for working families.
7. Maine Heritage Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to eliminate state and local income taxes and institute “right to work” for less in one county as a model for future endeavors. If the campaign succeeds, working families will face service cuts and lower wages.
8. Mississippi Center for Public Policy: Requested $30,000 to oppose gas tax increases and privatize the state Department of Transportation, which would lead to weakened services for state residents and lower accountability on transportation issues. (Also requested on privatization: Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute, $40,000).
9. Common Sense Institute of New Jersey: Requested $50,000 for a campaign to eliminate the compensation of public employees for unused sick leave, which would lower the overall compensation package for employees and encourage public employee absenteeism.
10. Nevada Policy Research Institute: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to get union members to leave their unions, which would weaken the collective bargaining rights of working families.
11. Empire Center for New York State Policy: Requested $36,500 to fund efforts to eliminate the estate tax, which would lead to service cuts for working families and shift the tax burden in the state from the wealthy toward working families.
12. Washington Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to launch a campaign to require local governments to have a super-majority to raise taxes, which would cripple local governments and lead to cuts in services for working families.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Alabama, ALEC, Corporate Accountability, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, maryland, mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, State Policy Network, washington
It’s not every day you see a credit card company making a decision that benefits consumers.
Visa, one of the world’s largest credit card companies, has dropped its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This decision comes just one year after ALEC awarded its “Private Sector Member of the Year Award” to Paul Russinoff, Visa’s Vice President of State Relations.
What is ALEC? This will help get you started, and here’s all our past ALEC coverage. ALEC is an organization that brings corporations and elected officials together to vote — as equals — on corporate-friendly “model bills.” The model bills are then distributed to various state lawmakers who introduce them in state legislatures. ALEC develops about 1,000 bills a year, and approximately 20 percent become law.
Some of ALEC’s greatest hits: Arizona’s anti-immigration “papers please” law (SB 1070), Wisconsin’s union-busting 2011 budget, multiple so-called “right to work” laws, Pennsylvania and North Carolina’s voter suppression laws, and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” gun law.
Visa is one of 50 companies to publicly cut ties with ALEC in the last two years. However, a recent expose in The Guardian shows that ALEC has lost closer to 60 corporate members, losing a third of its projected income.
As more and more people find out about ALEC’s record of restricting voting rights, stomping on the rights of workers, creating barriers in the court system, blocking transparency, preempting local democracy, and privatizing our schools, the less desirable it is for both corporations and lawmakers to associate with them.
Photo by @phillipcantor on Twitter
Tags: ALEC, Corporate Accountability, credit cards