Working Families Launch ‘We Rise’ Campaign to Train and Organize Immigrant Workers

The AFL-CIO will launch on Tuesday a national immigration training plan, “We Rise!” (¡Adelante!). It is designed to reach, mobilize and organize immigrant workers in their workplaces and in their communities. The three-day kick-off event in Washington, D.C., will include trainings, workshops and strategy sessions designed to empower immigrants and their allies to lead campaigns that will enhance the rights of all workers. The event will include more than 200 union members, leaders and staff from 23 unions, and activists and community leaders from 26 states across the nation.

This practical, hands-on training will provide labor union members, activists and leaders with all the tools necessary to realize the promise of the recent executive actions on immigration to improve standards for all working people and strengthen communities where our members work and live. Participants will be trained to assist as many eligible workers as possible to gain rights on the job by applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs and to encourage qualified legal permanent residents to become U.S. citizens.

The specific objectives of the training sessions are:

  • Build a shared understanding of what immigration implementation means for workers and the labor movement.
  • Identify the strategies, tools and resources necessary for successful implementation.
  • Generate a field plan for immigration implementation.
  • Create a national network of engaged unions and community partners.
  • Launch the We Rise! Initiative.

Scheduled to join the AFL-CIO in the training is a diverse array of organizations, including: the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee, AFSCME, AFT, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Clean Carwash Campaign, Dream Team Los Angeles, Education Austin, Farmworker Justice, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Laborers (LIUNA), National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Not1More, NPNA, the Orange County Labor Federation, PICO, Puente, the United Domestic Workers of America (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and United We Dream.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: President’s Immigration Executive Action ‘Moves Us Forward’

Photo courtesy Victoria Pickering on Flickr

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement in response to President Barack Obama’s announced executive action on immigration reform:

Today is an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law. On behalf of America’s workers, we applaud the Administration’s willingness to act.  We have been calling upon the White House to halt unnecessary deportations since Spring 2013 because our broken immigration system is an invitation for employer manipulation and abuse, and U.S.-born workers as well as immigrant workers are paying the price.

By extending relief and work authorization to an estimated 4 million people, the Obama Administration will help prevent unscrupulous employers from using unprotected workers to drive down wages and conditions for all workers in our country.  Although this fix will be temporary, it will allow millions of people to live and work without fear, and afford them the status to assert their rights on the job.

The Administration is operating within its authority to advance the moral and economic interests of our country, and while we stand ready to defend this program, we must also be clear that it is only a first step.  Unfortunately, more than half of those who currently lack legal protections will remain vulnerable to wage theft, retaliation, and other forms of exploitation.

In addition, we are concerned by the President’s concession to corporate demands for even greater access to temporary visas that will allow the continued suppression of wages in the tech sector.  We will actively engage in the rulemaking process to ensure that new workers will be hired based on real labor market need and afforded full rights and protections.

But this announcement does move us forward – progress that is attributable to the courage and determination of immigrants who rallied, petitioned, fasted and blocked streets to make it happen.  Implementation of the executive action should begin immediately, before further delays open the door for legislative obstruction. Starting tomorrow, the administration should focus enforcement attention on high level targets, stop the community raids and leave workers, grandmothers, and schoolchildren in peace.

Going forward, we renew our call for comprehensive reform that provides a path to citizenship and real protections for workers.  We will continue to stand with all workers, regardless of status, to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected.  Working together, we know that we will ultimately achieve a more just immigration system that promotes shared prosperity and respects the dignity of all workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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6 Ways to Reconnect Hard Work with Decent Pay

Photo by Annette Bernhardt/Wikimedia Commons

It’s pretty frustrating seeing all the headlines that claim the economy is alive and kicking. Sure, there is economic growth and a steady increase in jobs, but what kind of jobs are we talking about exactly?

Well, they aren’t the kind of jobs we think of first when it comes to steady, middle-class jobs. No big surprise here, low-wage service sector jobs like those in the fast-food industry are seeing the biggest gains.

Bryce Covert at The New Republic has a nice summary of what America’s workers are up against when it comes to wages.

Covert emphasizes the need for “ways to reconnect hard work and decent pay” that “hand employees more power so they can ask for more.” What does she have in mind?

  • Making it easier for workers to unionize and demand better pay;
  • Aiming for full employment, so all people who want a job can have one for as many hours as they need;
  • Urging the Federal Reserve to be more concerned about unemployment than inflation;
  • Following the German model of putting workers on corporate boards, so firms are not used as piggy banks to pump money out to shareholders;
  • Providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers; and
  • Raising the minimum wage.

Covert discusses more than just minimum wage workers and the fast-food industry, she points out other issues, including wage theft, the uphill battle for workers trying to form unions, NFL cheerleaders getting paid what sometimes amounts to $2 an hour, unscrupulous employers exploiting immigrant workers and more.

Make sure you read the rest of Covert’s article on decent wages: The NFL Cheerleaders Should Be Your Fair-Pay Heroes.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Central American Children Deserve Due Process

When President Barack Obama first announced his candidacy for president, he said: “I am running in this race because of what Dr. Martin Luther King called ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.” Like Dr. King, our president was calling on America to make real the promises of our democracy.

That fierce urgency of now is here for thousands of refugee children from Central America. I know many of these kids’ stories because it is my story too.

In 1982, after too many friends and family had been jailed, tortured or killed by a brutal military government, my family knew my best chance of surviving into adulthood was to flee my home in Ethiopia. I did not want to leave. My parents did not want me to leave. We knew I would be risking my life to journey to Sudan to seek asylum. We also all knew I was likely to lose my life if I remained at home.

I was barely 13 years old when I, along with four of my childhood friends, set out on a brutal journey across the desert to Sudan. We used money we had earned doing odd jobs, sold any valuables we had and collected donations from family and friends to hire a peasant to help us reach Sudan. We were quickly robbed and abandoned by the peasant we hired. We then roamed hundreds of miles, lost. We grew ill and hungry, and we were exploited by farmers who offered us work along the way.

When we finally arrived at Sudan’s border, I weighed only 67 pounds — at 5 feet 10 inches. Although I would eventually recover, I never grew any taller than I was when I arrived in Sudan.

Upon arriving in Sudan, I was sick and starving and still had to adapt to a different language and culture. I got help from the Sudanese government and international nongovernmental organizations.

I had to go through many screenings and tests to prove my life was in danger and to get refugee status. Though I was relieved to be safe and I did get to the United States, all I really wanted was my family and my home. After I left Ethiopia, I never saw my father again. I never got to go through our house and collect photos or attend his funeral and honor his life. I could only imagine what he would tell me as I strove to become the kind of man I think he would have wanted me to be.

When my older brother, whom I admired and adored, was killed, I didn’t find out about it or know where he was buried for many years. I didn’t get to be with my nephew when he was born, and I didn’t know the whereabouts of my mother for nearly a decade.

But because I received asylum, I now get to live my version of the American dream. Because my friends and I received due process, we got a chance to escape the violence, political upheaval, environmental crisis and famine.

Like many new immigrants, I worked hard in high school, college and graduate school to better myself. I was the first person of color to head the California Young Democrats. One of my happiest moments was being accepted as a working-class American, when I landed my first union job as a Teamster at UPS. And now, as the first African-American man elected as an officer of the national AFL-CIO, I work for more than 12 million working Americans.

As a former child refugee, I cannot comprehend our government turning away children from any country arriving at our border without giving them basic due process.

As Americans, we must respond with speed and flexibility to address the individual problems presented by Central American children. There must be clear guidelines for screening arrivals and processing resettlement claims for at-risk refugees.

Every day when I look in the mirror, I see the faces of my childhood friends who didn’t live to adulthood. And I see the faces of Central American children pressed against bus windows as they are greeted with tomatoes, rocks and profanity.

If, in 1982, instead of being taken to a refugee camp where I was given due process by Sudan and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, I had been turned around at the border and sent back to Ethiopia, I would not be alive to write this today.

Many Central American refugees arriving at our border need urgent resettlement action, just as I did when I left my home country. Their cases need to be addressed. They must not be casually turned back or left in detention centers to languish. I know because I’ve been in their shoes.

Tefere Gebre is executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.

Reposted from the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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When Workers Come Together, We Win: Working Families Victory Roundup

Letter Carrier Michael Shea from Georgia. Photos via Letter Carriers, NALC.

Working people scored major victories over the past several months, organizing new workplaces and winning fights to raise wages.

Here are some highlights of recent working families victories:

ORGANIZING VICTORIES

Texas Machinists Win Back-to-Back Organizing Drives: Union growth continues in Texas as members from the Machinists (IAM) successfully organized their second consecutive workplace in Texas this month, adding nearly 1,000 new members.

Point Park University Faculty Organize Hundreds to Gain Benefits: More than 300 part-time faculty members at Point Park University in Pittsburgh are on the road to a union voice after voting to certify with Adjunct Faculty Association-United Steelworkers (AFA-USW).

Missouri EMS Workers Win Organizing Fight: An overwhelming majority of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals in Independence, Missouri, voted to join EMS Workers United-AFSCME, strengthening the local union and providing essential protections for Missouri workers.

RAISING WAGES VICTORIES

Massachusetts Workers Help Push Minimum Wage Hike: Working people in Massachusetts scored a big win as Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017.

Newark, N.J., Paid Sick-Leave Ordinance Goes Into Effect: A new paid sick-leave law in Newark, N.J., will allow full and part-time employees to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick-leave per year. Similar paid sick-leave laws have passed in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.

Momentum Builds for Minimum Wage Hike in Nebraska: Workers in Nebraska put a measure on the 2014 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $9 and hour by 2016.

California Workers Benefit from Minimum Wage Increase: An increase in California’s minimum wage to $9 an hour has taken effect, with the wage set to increase again in 2016 to $10 an hour. Meanwhile, efforts continue in Los Angeles to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour.

COMMUNITY VICTORIES

Philadelphia Building Trades Go to Work with New Housing Deal: A deal between Philadelphia building-trades unions and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will put people to work in union jobs while creating new affordable housing for Pennsylvanians.

Letter Carriers Complete Successful Food Drive: Members of the Letter Carriers (NALC) completed their annual food drive, collecting more than 72 million pounds of food for families in need.

Union Volunteers Help Aspiring Americans Earn Citizenship: On June 28, at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., volunteers helped nearly 100 people through the U.S. citizenship process, enabling them to file paperwork with the help of legal and immigration experts.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Economist Who Beat Eric Cantor Doesn’t Know If There Should Be A Minimum Wage

In one of the biggest upsets in political history, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was defeated in his Republican primary by an under-funded, largely unknown economics professor.

But despite his economics training, Brat was at a loss when asked this morning about whether or not there should be a minimum wage:

The question wasn’t about a specific proposal on raising the minimum wage, like the Harkin-Miller bill raising the minimum wage to $10.10 that Senate Republicans filibustered and that Eric Cantor’s House colleagues refuse to vote on. Brat, who is a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon College and served as president of the of the Virginia Association of Economics, won’t say whether or not he thinks minimum wage should exist.

The odd thing is that Brat won largely by attacking Rep. Cantor on issues he saw as economic: Cantor’s soft support for a watered-down version of the DREAM Act and raising the debt ceiling. Stagnant wages are the most pressing economic issue in most people’s lives, and poll after poll show a majority of Americans think the minimum wage should be higher; 69 percent of Americans, including 45 percent of Republicans, specifically support Harkin-Miller bill.

Brat’s response could mean he is disconnected to the concern over wages that dominate the economic opinions of a majority of Americans. It also could mean that while he is vehemently opposed to immigration reform and government spending, he’s actually closer to the majority opinion on the minimum wage but isn’t willing to say it.

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AFL-CIO Calls on the Obama Administration to Provide Deportation Relief

Update: Monday afternoon AP reported Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is weighing limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. who don’t have serious criminal records. Read more.

The AFL-CIO today called upon President Barack Obama to halt deportations that tear families apart from each other, and today the AFL-CIO sent the president a memo urging him to take swift action on the urgent needs of workers and immigrant communities.

While Republicans in Congress are abdicating their responsibility to create a commonsense immigration process, the AFL-CIO recommends the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take the following three steps:

  1. DHS should grant affirmative relief with work authorization to individuals who are low priorities for removal or eligible for prosecutorial discretion under existing DHS policies. This would stop employers from “playing the deportation card” that pits workers against each other.
  2. DHS should reassert the primary role of the federal government in determining and implementing enforcement priorities by ending programs that effectively delegate those responsibilities to state and local law enforcement.
  3. DHS should reform the enforcement and removal system to stop criminalizing immigrant communities and ensure that individuals who are low priorities for removal or eligible for prosecutorial discretion are not removed.

Read more details about these steps in the memo and from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Boosting Minimum Wage to $10.10 Means a Raise for 6.8 Million Latinos

Courtesy of UFCW.

Nearly 6.8 million Latino workers would benefit if Congress raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, according to the new AFL-CIO study Closing the Gap to the American Dream. While Latinos comprise 16% of the country’s workforce, they make up nearly one-quarter of the workers who would be positively affected by raising the minimum wage. According to the report:

Too many Latino workers are vulnerable in this economy. Living in a state of financial insecurity, many workers who are employed full-time are trapped in low-wage positions. These nearly 6.8 million Latino workers would greatly benefit from a raise in the minimum wage. A $10.10-an-hour salary would provide higher take-home income, improved employment prospects and increased opportunities to save for retirement.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says, “Raising the minimum wage is long overdue for all working families in America.” He adds:

Every day, millions of Latinos go to work but struggle to support their families. Many of them are paid poverty wages well below their white and African American counterparts in an economy with ever increasing costs of living. These working families are frequently forced to forgo basics—food, housing, clothing—and rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Throughout the nation, Latino workers are struggling with high rates of unemployment, low wages and a dire financial outlook for retirement. Latino men are paid just 67.3% of their white counterparts and 89.0% of their black counterparts. Latinas are paid just 73.4% of their white counterparts and 87.0% of their black counterparts.

Yanira Merino, the AFL-CIO’s national immigration campaign manager, says, “Latino and Latina workers are consistently underpaid and underappreciated.”

This is wrong. Latinos work hard every day to build this nation and deserve to be rewarded with wages that can support their families and put food on the table. We stand with Latino families everywhere, advocating for policies that will allow each and every one of us to reach the American Dream.

Read the full report and read more on the minimum wage.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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In Congress, Immigration On The Backburner. In North Carolina, Not So Much.

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Here’s the truth: House Speaker John Boehner could single-handedly take steps to fix our nation’s broken immigration reform.

A bill passed by a wide bipartisan majority in the Senate, S. 744, has been sitting around since the summer. It contains a clear path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented men, women, and children, many of whom are exploited by employers who take advantage of their fears of coming out of the shadows.

While almost no one considers this bill “perfect,” many Republicans and Democrats in the often contentious House are supportive of the bill. If Speaker Boehner brought S. 744 to the floor for a vote, it would probably pass with bipartisan support.

But he refuses to do so.

In February, when asked about the status of the immigration bill, Boehner kicked the can down the road:

“The American people, including many of our members, don’t trust that the reform we’re talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be…”

and:

“Listen, there’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

In other words, until after the 2014 election, in which Boehner hopes his party will retain or expand control of the House and take over the Senate as well.

The Speaker is wrong about one thing: the American people want reform, and they don’t want to wait some amorphous time period just because Boehner and some of his colleagues “don’t trust” the federal government (which he works for, and is a leader of) will enforce this or any law. A gigantic majority of Americans, 79 percent say they will be “disappointed” if Congress does not tackle immigration this year.

That majority includes Working America member Theodosian Swain of Greensboro, North Carolina, who wrote this letter to the News & Record. We’ve reprinted it in full:

Congress wastes time as immigrants wait

I am writing in response to the article “Hopes low for immigration reform” (Feb. 7). The GOP stating that it will wait until the elections are over is just another political ploy for Congress to not get anything done. There have been people who have lived in this country for years who have become working members of society. Undocumented immigrants pay more than $200 million in sales tax every year and have basically become members of our community. This is just our political leaders telling us “tough luck” once again on measures that are important to the general public. We have people who want to become American citizens and are willing to work and contribute. Why wouldn’t we let them?

I’d like for people to look at this issue more practically and take in all the ramifications of passing a comprehensive reform bill. I think it’s possible for us to separate our politics from what needs to be done for our community. This is just the right thing to do.

Theodosia Swain
Greensboro

Text TIMEISNOW to 30644 and tell your member of Congress that it’s time to fix our broken immigration system.

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Trumka and Bishop Blaire Urge Congress to Pass Immigration Reform, Ask Obama to Halt Deportations

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Stephen Blaire, Catholic bishop of Stockton and a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic policy committee, wrote the following Op-Ed, which appeared in the Sacramento Bee last week.

Unions and Catholic leaders have long found common cause in advocating for policies that defend the dignity of workers and protect immigrant families. Over the past several years, we have worked together to win congressional approval of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Although such legislation has passed the U.S. Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, the U.S. House of Representatives is now delaying consideration of either the Senate bill or its own version of reform.

While we commend President Barack Obama’s strong commitment to humane and responsible reform, we now stand together again to urge him to halt the deportations of immigrants who would achieve legal status and eventual citizenship under the Senate bill. It is inconsistent to advocate on behalf of immigrants and their families on one hand—including giving them an opportunity for citizenship—and devastate and separate their families through enforcement actions on the other.

A philosophically diverse coalition of business, faith and labor leaders has joined Obama in a clear call for making urgent legislative changes to a broken system, and we remain committed to achieving passage of comprehensive immigration reform. We must not allow extreme positions outside the American mainstream to define the debate and hinder the achievement of the common good, which calls for comprehensive immigration reform.

Despite our optimism that Congress will eventually do the right thing, we remain deeply troubled that the number of undocumented immigrants deported since Obama took office five years ago will soon surpass 2 million people. This represents a moral and political failure. Simply put, tearing apart tens of thousands of children from parents is morally unacceptable.

We are a nation of laws, but also a nation guided by enduring principles and the practical sense to fix what is broken. A strictly punitive approach to immigration is an imprudent and impractical response that ignores the root causes driving migration, such as trade policies that benefit multinational corporations over workers. Global poverty and unstable governments all contribute to complex challenges that will not be solved by higher walls or tough rhetoric.

Moreover, the economic case for an immigration overhaul is strong. Despite the ugly myths and fear stoked by anti-immigrant groups, the fact is that comprehensive reform will be good for America’s workers, families and our economy.

Most immigrants work hard, pay taxes and contribute to our communities. But in New YorkLos Angeles and Chicago alone, low-wage workers in immigrant-heavy industries lose about $56 million per week in wage theft from unscrupulous employers. The best defense against workplace exploitation is bringing immigrants out of the shadows.

In this regard, we support immigration policies that offer immigrant workers a fair and just path to citizenship, so that their human rights are protected and the wages for all workers rise.

The low wages and fear that trap many immigrants and U.S. citizens in dead-end jobs have only gotten worse with declining union membership and growing income inequality. Fixing our broken immigration system will help all workers, strengthen a shrinking middle class and set our nation on a more stable path to compete in a diverse global economy. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform with a path to citizenship would generate an additional $1.5 trillion to the economy over the next decade.

It’s time to reject false choices and inconsistent and immoral enforcement policies. Let’s secure our borders at the same time that we provide an earned path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. We can protect both American-born workers and aspiring Americans by fixing an immigration system that encourages manipulation and abuse by employers. The status quo is unacceptable.

As labor and faith leaders, we urge all people of good will not to rest until the fight for a fair and just immigration system is won.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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