Trumka in Missouri: Racism Is Not Somebody Else’s Problem, It’s ‘Our Problem’

In a powerful speech given at the Missouri AFL-CIO Convention, national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took time to address the shooting of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and the issues of race and class the shooting reignited in the national conversation. Trumka emphasized that racism is still a significant issue that we face not only as a country, but as a labor movement. He noted that both Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, and Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, are union members.

Highlights of Trumka’s speech:

You see, the question of unity brings up a hard subject, a subject all of us know about but few want to acknowledge—race. I’m talking about race in America and what that means for our communities, our movement and our nation.

Because the reality is that while a young man named Michael Brown died just a short distance from us in Ferguson, from gunshot wounds from a police officer, other young men of color have died and will die in similar circumstances, in communities all across this country.

It happened here but it could have happened—and does happen—anywhere in America. Because the reality is we still have racism in America.

Now, some people might ask me why our labor movement should be involved in all that has happened since the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And I want to answer that question directly. How can we not be involved?

Union members’ lives have been profoundly damaged in ways that cannot be fixed. Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother who works in a grocery store, is our sister, an AFL-CIO union member, and Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, is a union member, too, and he is our brother. Our brother killed our sister’s son and we do not have to wait for the judgment of prosecutors or courts to tell us how terrible this is.

So I say again, how can we not be involved? This tragedy and all the complexities of race and racism are a big part of our very big family as they always have been. A union is like a home. And in any home, good and bad things happen. We have to deal with all of them, honestly.

But that’s a philosophy. We can’t leave it at that. We have to look at real life today. We cannot wash our hands of the issues raised by Michael Brown’s death. That does not mean we prejudge the specifics of Michael Brown’s death or deny Officer Darren Wilson—or any other officer—his or her rights on the job or in the courts.

But it does demand that we clearly and openly discuss the reality of racism in American life. We must take responsibility for the past. Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement….

I have a son. He’s not so young anymore but he’s not so old. I don’t worry about him. I don’t know, but I have a suspicion that like many of you, and certainly like me at that age, he may not always obey the nation’s traffic laws. So I worry he might wrap himself around a tree. But I never worry when he goes for a cross-country road trip or a night on the town that he may be stopped, shot to death by a police officer.

But for millions of mothers and fathers of young African American men and boys, men just like my son and boys who were as young as me and my friend Tommy—kids with promising futures in America, it is a constant fear, a constant fear.

And if you don’t feel that fear yourself, I’d just ask you, for a moment, to think about that. Think about what it would be like to watch your kid walk out the door and wonder, with good reason, if it’s the last time you’ll see him alive. Because you know it happens. If you haven’t had a close call yourself, you know people who have: friends, family, neighbors and people you worship with….

This is not somebody else’s problem. This is the reality of life for millions of our brothers and sisters. And so it is our problem. That is what solidarity means….

And think about what it means to be a police officer in this country where violence is so often the norm—about walking up to cars anticipating the worst, over and over again. None of us can really know the toll this takes unless we have worn the uniform. This reality, this experience, must be part of any conversation about how we move forward from what has happened here in Ferguson….

So we’ve got to talk to each other, not past each other. We’ve got to talk about how to help our police officers serve our communities. We’ve got to talk about registering and educating voters about jobs and housing and raising wages for all, and we’ve got to talk about accountability—about making sure the public has confidence that the laws of our nation will be enforced and enforced equally. And we have to do more than talk; we have to listen and then we have to act.

I’m not saying this is easy. If I knew how to fix the hurt in our communities, I would tell you. But I know how to start and that’s by listening….

Read the full speech.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Union YES! American Airlines Passenger Service Agents Win Largest Organizing Victory in the South in Decades

Union, YES! American Airlines Passenger Service Agents Win Largest Organizing Victory in the South in Decades

In what Communications Workers of America (CWA) heralds as “the largest labor organizing victory in the South in decades,” passenger service agents at American Airlines voted to form a union after a 19-year struggle.  In the vote announced today, 86% of the 9,000 agents who voted favored the union, which will now represent 14,500 agents, the vast majority of whom live in the South. American Airlines agents in the West are represented by the Teamsters and the two unions form a joint CWA-IBT unit to bargain with the airline.

Nearly three-quarters of the agents work in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona and several thousand are home-based reservations agents.  The wide range of jobs the members work include: reservations, ticket and gate agents, baggage service agents, customer assistance representatives, customer service supervisors, club representatives, passenger operations center representatives and special service counter agents.

About the result, CWA said:

The vote clearly shows that workers who can make a fair choice about union representation want bargaining rights. New American agents are concentrated in southern states and work at diverse locations, including large and small airports, call centers and at home. Across every group, they voted for bargaining rights and union representation.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke about the broader importance of the victory:

Clearly, one of the largest labor organizing victories in the South in decades is a historic day. But it also shows that the future of the U.S. labor movement is alive, as these workers can be found at airports, call centers, even working from home. The right to collectively bargain will always be what our working family fights for.

The agents themselves were ecstatic about the victory. Richard Shaughnessy, who has been an agent at Miami International Airport for 27 years, said:

The merger between American Airlines and US Airways is an exciting time for all of us. But even more exciting is our victory today. We’re the front-line employees who interact with our customers every day, and we are looking forward to a positive relationship with management to make this merger ‘work’ for all of us. We are anxious to get to the bargaining table.

Carroll Locklear, a home-based reservations agent in Texas, said:

I’ve been with American Airlines for 18 years, and through all of those years I have been praying for this day. We have been the odd employees out for so long because we were the only employees without union representation. Gone are the days that management can take what they want when they want. This will be a win-win for all of us.

Eula Smith, a customer service agent in Charlotte, N.C., added:

We feel stronger now with this vote. I’m a 60-year-old woman with 42 years with this employer. You can’t live in the South and make a decent wage unless you are in senior management in a corporation or belong to a union. We need this. We need not just a union, we need CWA.

Ken Grunwald, a 23-year reservations agent at the call center in North Carolina, said:

I’m proud to remember everyone over the years who worked so hard for our union voice, who never gave up in the face of adversity, and who gave their blood, sweat and tears so that we would have the opportunity to celebrate this victory today. It’s a victory for all American Airlines employees! I’m so excited to think that we will finally be able to negotiate a legally binding contract. We now all have each others’ back.

Janet Elston, an agent at Dallas International Airport, concluded:

Nineteen years ago, a handful of agents started a drive to obtain representation for [American Airlines] airport and reservations agents. Many hundreds of activists have spent thousands of hours over the years to get us to today’s election result. They never wavered and never, ever gave up. We have finally achieved what most thought was impossible: union representation for our work group. Now we’ll begin a new working relationship with our company, with a legal binding contract.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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New Website Keeps You on Top of Southern California Carwash Workers’ Fight for Justice

New Website Keeps You on Top of Southern California Carwash Workers' Fight for Justice

We’ve been reporting on the fight for justice for Southern California carwash workers—and their CLEAN Carwash campaign’s many victories—since the carwasheros launched their campaign. Now with a new website, you can keep up with the latest developments in the workers’ campaign.

Here are some of the new features:

  • There’s the “A Better Carwash” map of union carwashes, which is constantly updated as we have more victories for workers. This way, you’ll always know where the latest carwashes are that have fair wages and working conditions throughout California.
  • There’s also an Action Center that gives people more ways to help carwash workers beyond “Like” us on Facebook (which is cool, too, but sometimes we want to do more, right?).
  • The campaign’s blog features regular and personalized blog posts from a worker’s perspective about important issues, struggles and developments in the campaign that you’ll want to know about.
  • A new Worker Center page that not only lays out the work of this important service to “carwasheros” but creates ways to contribute to it in different forms as well.

Check it all out, bookmark the site and use it as a resource for knowing all about the campaign, its progress and changes in the industry. You also can follow the CLEAN Carwash Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

For news on New York City carwash workers, visit the WASH New York campaign and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union website.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Why Paul LePage Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

1. In 2013, Maine was ranked the second worst state for job growth by Business Journal. [Morning Sentinel, 1/6/11; Business Journal, 6/27/13]

2. Rather than working on the business of the people of Maine, LePage has instead focused on petty things like removing a pro-labor mural from the Department of Labor office and ordering the names of conference rooms changed because they weren’t “pro-business enough.” He’s been so extreme that Politico called him “America’s Craziest Governor” and the Daily Beast called him a “Madman Governor.” [Politico, 1/8/14; The Daily Beast, 4/16/11; The Washington Post, 4/14/11]

3. LePage is so out of touch with working families that he claimed 47% of able-bodied Mainers don’t work and said they should “get off the couch and get yourself a job.” [Kennebec Journal, 10/23/13; Bangor Daily News, 5/6/12]

4. While working families are seeing their incomes fall behind the cost of living, LePage vetoed a bill that would’ve raised the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour. [Bangor Daily News, 7/8/13]

5. LePage also vetoed a bill that would have required Maine to purchase American-made goods and services whenever possible. [Bangor Daily News, 7/8/13]

6. While most Mainers believe that all children deserve access to good education, LePage disagrees. He said: “If you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can’t afford it, tough luck. You can go to the public school.” [Bangor Daily News, 3/30/13]

7. During tough economic times, working families have found access to affordable health care harder to come by and LePage vetoed legislation to help them get access to health care and he also vetoed a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 low-income Mainers. [Bangor Daily News, 4/9/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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California Passes Paid Sick Days Law but Home Health Care Workers Left Out

Six and a half million California workers will now have access to paid sick days, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Workers will be able to earn three paid sick days a year. Unfortunately, home care workers were excluded from the final bill.

California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said in a statement:

While this law is a historic step forward, California’s unions won’t rest until every single worker in our state receives equal access to paid sick days. Home care workers, like all workers, deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days on the job. We’ll continue to fight for In-Home Supportive Services workers to ensure that California treats all workers with fairness and dignity.

California has become only the second state in the United States to offer guaranteed earned paid sick days (cities and municipalities across the country have been taking the lead in this area).

Read more about the legislation and the home care worker exclusion from Ellen Bravo, director at Family Values@Work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Years After 9/11, Honor the Victims, Help Those Still Suffering

IAFF photo illustration

Today we mark the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11. As we honor the memories of the lives that were lost that day, we also should remember the thousands of people who are still suffering.

More than 100,000 rescue and recovery workers—including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, building and construction trades workers and transit workers—and hundreds of thousands of other workers and residents near Ground Zero were exposed to a toxic mix of dust and fumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Now more than 30,000 responders are sick and many have died from respiratory diseases and other health problems.

The AFL-CIO is a longtime advocate of the World Trade Center Health Program and supported the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed in 2010 and provided medical care and compensation to the victims. The law, which expires after five years, needs to be extended and has garnered bipartisan support to achieve that goal. This year, in remembrance of all who lost their lives on 9/11 and in honor of the brave responders who are still suffering, we ask you to contact your member of Congress and urge them to support the 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Meet the Veterans Who Rebuilt the World Trade Center

On the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, here’s a little “Throwback Thursday” recognition of the veterans who rebuilt the World Trade Center and became highly skilled members of the union building and construction trades through the Helmets to Hardhats apprenticeship program.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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How the Government Can Lead on Supporting Businesses that Lift Working Standards

How the Government Can Lead on Supporting Businesses that Lift Working Standards

Through our tax dollars used in government purchasing, U.S. taxpayers are collectively the largest buyer of goods in services in the world. Being that big gives us power. And it gives us responsibility to hold the government accountable for how it spends those dollars. However, our government does very little to ensure our tax dollars are spent responsibly, whether it’s through buying uniforms, electronics or food from businesses that support decent conditions in the thousands of workplaces in the United States and around the world. A new report by the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) lays out some clear ideas to improve federal government purchasing and the capacity to protect and respect human rights of workers in its own supply chain. On Sept. 10, the AFL-CIO hosted a panel with ICAR human rights and corporate accountability experts, law and business professors from Georgetown University and a journalist from The New York Times to discuss how the U.S. government can obey labor laws and respect workers’ rights.

Labor and human rights activists have long known about this lack of accountability, and both the mainstream press and U.S. Congress have noted the staggering scale of the problem both at home and abroad. The ICAR report reviews the limits of the existing legal framework, explains how previous efforts to improve the rules failed and presents a menu of policy choices to finally take action to improve a system that often rewards unfair competition by contractors who cut costs by violating labor laws at home and abroad. Instead, the ICAR report shows how to build respect for labor rights into the government purchasing process and give incentives to contractors to take the high road.

Any viable plan to improve government purchasing practices requires a stronger mandate to eliminate unfair competition by establishing clear rules, transparency and sufficient staff, budgets and training at contracting agencies that do this important work. This past July, the Obama administration proposed actions to take such measures in awarding contracts for goods and services produced in the United States. Those improved policies will need support to be implemented. However, around the world our government relies on the same failed systems used by most companies to monitor their own working conditions and labor rights in their supply chains. We also must take measures that address our government’s global supply chain. The ICAR report analyzes the government purchasing process and pinpoints the many places in the process where government contractors can be held accountable. Some proposals borrow solutions that have beenimplemented by local and state governments and universities to clean up supply chains. There are innovative solutions to these problems such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which shows how major purchasers can use their power to improve conditions in supply chains. The U.S. government should draw lessons from the accord’s commitment to accountability.

It is possible to improve working conditions in supply chains that depend on our tax dollars, if we use our power to demand better practices. The ICAR report provides detail about how to do that effectively in the complex process of government purchasing.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Musicians Satirize Lionsgate’s Offshoring Practices in ‘Right Here at the Top’

Musicians Satirize Lionsgate's Offshoring Practices in 'Right Here at the Top'

Members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) wrote a song satirizing the film company Lions Gate Entertainment (Lionsgate) for placing profits ahead of people by outsourcing jobs in the production of its movies. AFM is calling on Lionsgate to stop offshoring musicians’ jobs and live up to the standards maintained by other movie companies.

The song says: “We’re outsourcing workers, we don’t want to stop. We’re concentrating profits right here at the top!” CEO Jon Feltheimer is being paid $66.3 million in total compensation in 2014, 400% more than he was paid in 2013. The company has received $82 million this year while continuing to send musicians’ jobs overseas.

Listen to the song now:

The song was composed by Clifford J. Tasner and recorded by AFM members. Learn more at listenupnow.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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6 Reasons Why Scott Walker Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is (surprise, surprise) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Here are six reasons why Walker has been bad for working people:

1. Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, but with only a few months left the state is dead last in the Midwest in terms of job growth and he’s less than halfway toward reaching his jobs goal. [The Washington Post, 9/5/14]

2. And jobs aren’t just the one negative in Wisconsin’s economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia ranked the state 49th in economic outlook and Wisconsin was one of only five states projected to contract in the second half of 2013. On top of that, new estimates show the state will be facing a $1.8 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/28/13; Media Matters, 1/27/14]

3. As governor, Walker made the largest education cut in the state’s history—more than $1 billion. [Politifact, 2/8/12]

4. Walker signed legislation that would pre-empt local government control, preventing them from requiring paid sick days for workers, regardless of how much the community might want them. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5/11]

5. Despite the fact that wages are stagnant and the minimum wage continues to lose buying power, Walker opposed raising the minimum wage, calling such a proposal a “political grandstanding stunt.” [The Associated Press, 1/23/14]

6. And the kicker that we’re all too familiar with: Walker signed a bill to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, barred the traditional collection of union dues and forced workers to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits. [2011 Wisconsin Act 10; The New York Times, 2/22/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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