LIUNA, UAW Members Guests of First Lady at State of the Union

Two union members, one representing the benefits of union training and apprenticeship programs and the other the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry were guests of first lady Michelle Obama during last night’s State of the Union address.

Laborers (LIUNA) Local 300 member LeDaya Epps said:

The skills training I received through my union has done more than teach me a trade. It’s renewed my life. It has been a lifeline to a career I am proud of and allowed me to provide for myself and my three children.

Epps was unemployed a year ago, but with the help of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, an affiliate of the UCLA Labor Center, enrolled in an apprenticeship-readiness program sponsored by the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building Trades Council. After completing that training, she entered Local 300’s apprenticeship program.

The Compton, Calif., native is currently working on a project to expand the light rail train line for the LA Metro to Los Angeles International Airport.

During his address, President Barack Obama spoke forcefully about how job training and paid apprenticeships, such as the one that has opened doors for Epps, are “opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.”

He also called for laws that “that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice [and]…that make sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.”

Read more about Epps and her journey from jobless to a family-supporting union job from LIUNA, the North America’s Building Trades Unions and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Also sitting with Mrs. Obama was Tiairris Woodward of UAW Local 7 in Detroit. She works at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Chrysler has emerged from its 2009 bankruptcy and now, like the entire American automobile industry, is making big contributions to the nation’s economy.

Woodward, a 43-year-old mom from Harrison, Mich., took on a second full-time job at Chrysler in 2010 after she found that she couldn’t support herself and her three children. After working 17-hour days across two jobs for some time, Tiairris was able to move solely to her Chrysler assembly line position. Within a year, she’d saved enough to buy a car and rent a new apartment and is attending college.

Earlier this month, Woodward wrote the White House thanking Obama for his actions that helped Chrysler survive bankruptcy and revived the auto industry. Read more on Woodward from the Detroit News.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Your Inspiration for Today: 11-Year-Old Asean Johnson

You may have seen a video of him before, but if 11-year-old Asean Johnson can stand up to Rahm Emanuel and school “reformers” like he does in this video from the AFT convention, you can stand up and fight the important battles in your community.

At the Los Angeles convention, he thanked his teachers, his family and his Chicago community for joining together not only to safeguard his schooling and opportunities in life, but also to win access for all students to art, music, libraries and vital school professionals like counselors and nurses. To the cheers of delegates, Asean said:

Now, we must take that fight to every city in America. If we come together, we will win. Let’s march together; let’s fight together; let’s work together. Let’s reclaim the promise of America’s schools together!

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Los Angeles Becomes the First City with More Than a Dozen Unionized Carwashes

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With more than a dozen local carwashes now unionized, Los Angeles workers are leading the way for union carwashes. The 133 new unionized carwasheros are represented by the United Steelworkers Local 675. The carwash owners where these employees work also have agreed by contract to comply with all labor, health and safety regulations and give their workers a 2% raise. Workers are now able to enforce these working standards by themselves through a grievance procedure.

The California Labor Federation explains why this is such an important step forward:

Unfortunately, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws leading to unsafe and unhealthy workplaces for workers and the communities they serve. In March 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported the results of an investigation of the carwash industry, finding that many owners pay less than half of the required minimum wage, and that two-thirds of those inspected by the state’s labor department since 2003 were out of compliance with one or more labor laws. Although some violations were minor, others were fundamental: underpaying workers, hiring minors, operating without workers’ compensation insurance, and denying workers meal and rest breaks.

Carwash workers in Los Angeles are overwhelmingly Latino immigrants and their work is very labor intensive. On a typical weekday, a carwash may service up to 500 cars. The workers must work at a fast pace for long periods of time, often drenched in water and exposed to high summer temperatures. In order to wash and clean such a high number of vehicles, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws, such as those requiring rest breaks or providing shade and clean drinking water.

See the map below for the new unionized carwashes:

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO and Working Families Lead Efforts Across the Country to Raise the Minimum Wage

Photo via All-Nite Images/Flickr

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:

Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.

Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.

Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.

Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.

Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.

Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.

Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.

New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.

Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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NLRB Files Formal Complaint Against Walmart, Internal Anti-Union Documents Also Leaked

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.”

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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

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Trumka, Shuler, Gebre Elected to Lead AFL-CIO


New AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read more about Gebre.

Photo by @RickEiden on Twitter

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Durazo: ‘Los Angeles…the Low-Wage Capital of the Nation’

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Journalists are fixated on union members’ donations to the Los Angeles mayoral race to elect Wendy Greuel, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, writes in a Los Angeles Times column. But one issue is being largely ignored: the working poor.

“But if the discussion about the role of unions in the campaign is going to focus almost exclusively on money, shouldn’t we talk about money in its entirety?” writes Durazo. “What motivates me and so many others in L.A. labor when it comes to money are the hundreds of thousands of our fellow workers in Los Angeles who don’t earn enough of it.”

Los Angeles is the low-wage capital of the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s American Community Survey. L.A. has more workers who struggle to survive on poverty pay than any other metropolitan area in the country.

During 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 822,244 people working at full-time, year-round jobs earned less than $25,000 a year. That represented 28% of the labor force. These figures are for Los Angeles County.

Read the rest of Mayor’s Race: The Real Money Problem in L.A. in the Los Angeles Times.

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Across the Country, City Councils Endorsing Local Occupy Movements

When police forces have cracked down on local Occupy encampments, TV cameras have swarmed to cover it. But what’s not being covered as closely are the numerous actions, symbolic and otherwise, on the part of local elected officials to endorse or otherwise support the protests of the 99 Percent going on in their cities.

On October 12 in Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the United States, the City Council resolved that the body “stands in support for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles.’” The resolution included in its justification that 1 in 5 foreclosures in the U.S. have taken place in California, and that an investigation of the financial crisis and holding those accountable are particularly in the interest of Angelenos. The cities of Sebastapol and Santa Anna, California have also formally endorsed Occupy Wall Street.

On November 14 in Seattle, Washington, the nine-member City Council resolved to support the Occupy Seattle protest. They stressed that they condemn violence and any action taken that interferes with the police, but also that they would actively take steps to address the Occupiers concerns. “The City will review its banking and investment practices to ensure that public funds are invested in responsible financial institutions that support our community,” the resolution states.

Last Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, the City Council voted 18-1 to pass Np. 1720-11, which formally expresses support for Occupy Wall Street. The effort was spearheaded by Councilman Brian Cummings, a member of the Green Party, who has been active in Occupy Cleveland. The resolution states:

Be it resolved by the Council of the City of Cleveland…That this Council recognizes and supports the principles of the Occupy Movement and the peaceful and lawful exercise of the First Amendment as a cherished and fundamental right in the effort to seek solutions for economically distressed Americans at the federal, state and local levels.

The resolution also states that the Council will continue to work with the Mayor to “continue taking steps to minimize economic insecurity and destructive disparities in the City of Cleveland.” A unique situation is developing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the City Council also endorsed their local OWS branch, Occupy Pittsburgh.

BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does support and declare solidarity with Occupy Pittsburgh and the Occupy Wall Street movement, exercising First Amendment rights in a free, open, peaceful, and productive manner, toward the better condition of our citizens and of these United States.

What makes this even more significant is that Occupy Pittsburgh sits on Mellon Green, the property of the financial giant BNY Mellon, last seen trying to use the occupy movement in its marketing materials. Under the pretense of the Occupiers’ safety as the temperature drops, BNY Mellon has issued a warning that they will forcibly evict the encampment. The result of this standoff may set a precedent for the country – are the actions of police forces dictated by large financial institutions, local City Councils, or Mayors? And who currently exerts the most influence over Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: BNY Mellon or his own Council? BNY Mellon gave Sunday, December 11 as the deadline to evacuate Mellon Green, but as of Monday evening, the encampment remains.

Photo of an Los Angeles Occupier by Occupy Los Angeles on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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