Working Families to Join ‘Justice for All’ March in Ferguson

In September, when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke to the convention of the Missouri AFL-CIO, he addressed the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that led to the shooting of Michael Brown, saying that it was important for labor to be a part of the necessary conversation about race in the United States. Now the AFL-CIO, including the federation’s director of civil, human and women’s rights, Carmen Berkley, and Neidi Dominguez, assistant director of community engagement, will be in Missouri this weekend as part of the “Justice for All” events, including a national march and rally in St. Louis and Moral Monday-themed civil disobedience.

If you are going to be in the area for the national march on Saturday, please RSVP to be included as part of the working families contingent.

Learn more about all of the events, which begin today at the Ferguson October website.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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Trumka: Ferguson Tragedy Highlights Race and Class Divisions We Have Long Neglected

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement in response to events in Ferguson, Missouri:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Michael Brown, the teenager who was recently killed in Ferguson, Missouri.  His death and the anguish of the Ferguson community have rightfully become a national story.  Despite the tragedy, there is also an opportunity to have an important discussion about issues that we have long neglected in this country.  This conversation can only be had if cooler heads prevail.  We are a nation that still remains segregated by race and class and tragedies like this highlight those divisions.  It is encouraging that the Justice Department and FBI are closely investigating this incident so that the community of Ferguson is served.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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Every Time Anti-Union Bills Come Up in Missouri, More Republicans Vote Against Them

Last night, the Missouri House of Representatives approved a bill that would make it harder for union workers to make their voices heard in the political process. Known as “paycheck deception,” House Bill 1617 places unnecessary restrictions on how union workers’ paycheck deductions can be used. Like many other anti-worker bills introduced around the country, House Bill 1617 is based on an ALEC model bill.

Does this story seem familiar? It should. The Republican-controlled Missouri House passed an almost identical bill almost exactly one year ago.

Again, the bill was introduced (SB 29 last time, HB 1617 this time). Again, there was enormous outcry from labor unions, community members, and the faith community. Again, debate on the floor revealed that the bill’s sponsors were unfamiliar with current paycheck deduction laws, which render “paycheck deception” laws redundant. Again, they didn’t care, because ALEC wrote the bill anyway, and because hurting labor unions is in their political interest. Again, it passed.

If ALEC did a remake of the movie Groundhog Day, it would look a lot like this.

But in this version, there were two major changes.

First, this version refers the issue to the 2014 ballot. This is because last year’s attempt at paycheck deception was vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, and despite controlling twin supermajorities in the legislature, the bill’s proponents were unable to get enough Republican votes to override.

Second, this year the bill lost even more Republican votes, a tight 83-70.

This mimics a trend in the Missouri Senate. While SB 29 passed the Senate on a near party-line vote last spring, two conservative Republicans opposed it when it came back around for an override attempt in the fall: Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) voted no, while Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) “took a walk” and was absent (a tactic often used to express passive opposition).

So why is this happening? It seems that for a number of Republican lawmakers, and for even more of their constituents, the ALEC-backed anti-worker agenda is getting tired. As the economy continues to struggle, the continued pushing of narrow, corporate-backed policies at the expense of job-creation policies–like Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage–is making less and less sense.

“A lot of Republicans don’t want anything to do with these bills, because they’re afraid the issue will come back to bite them in the end,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, “They’re right.”

“There’s more and more of us on the Republican side who realize that labor is not the enemy,” said Republican Representative Anne Zerr. Rep. Zerr has opposed both paycheck deception and “right to work” in her caucus, and spoke at a rally opposing “right to work” last week. A former utility worker, Rep. Zerr stressed that she is doing her best to turn her caucus in a different direction. “We are educating our own,” she told the crowd.

But for now, HB 1617 moves next to the Missouri Senate. If the trend continues, that might be where it stops.

Learn more about “paycheck deception” bills.

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The Five States With the Lowest Quality of Life Have This In Common.

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Politico Magazine released a comprehensive report comparing all 50 states using 14 different indicators of quality of life. In their ranking, the five bottom states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama) are all so-called “right to work” states.

Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.

Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.

The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.

As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.

A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)

But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work”  states rank in the bottom 20.

The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.

As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.

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Missouri Republicans Can’t Think of Anyone Who Benefits from ‘Right to Work’ for Less Laws, Either

Missouri Republicans are attempting to pass “right to work” for less legislation and, despite claims that the legislation is “pro-business” and will “help” the state’s economy, they can’t seem to think of one person or business the law would actually help. The state’s speaker of the House, Tim Jones (R), was recently asked at a press conference to name businesses that would benefit from the law. His answer:

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AFSCME noticed the speaker’s response and created the above image and created a webpage to help expose the admission from Jones that the law doesn’t actually help Missouri’s businesses. On Facebook, AFSCME posted the image with this caption: “We’ve created this simple website so you can see if there are any companies in your state that stand to benefit from Right to Work.”

Clicking on the link leads you to a humorous site that is definitely laughing at Jones and his extreme allies, not with them.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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How The “Right to Work” Movement Fell Flat On Its Face in 2013

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A year ago, in one of the most shocking reversals in the state’s history, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a “right to work” bill into law behind closed doors as more than 12,000 protesters raged outside.

Right wing groups crowed, saying union restrictions in the home of the auto industry meant the labor movement was on its last legs. They talked about which states would go next.

And then, nothing.

Well, not nothing. But what anti-worker pundits said would be a domino effect was more like a cricket effect. In 2013, no state passed a “right to work” law.

Incorrectly-named “right to work” laws put restrictions on contracts union workers can make with employers. They ban fair share clauses which require that workers pay dues to have the protection of the union. Unions are left in the position of providing services without being able to fund those services, and they starve.

“Right to work” laws have nothing to do with freedom. They are simply a tactic to defund unions and weaken the ability of workers to advocate for themselves. And it shows: states with “right to work” laws have lower wages, higher poverty rates, and more workplace injuries and fatalities than free bargaining states.

In 2013, workers didn’t stand for it.

In Missouri, where Republicans controlled supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, some legislators pursued a “paycheck deception” bill, which restricts unions’ ability to make political contributions. Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) called it a step toward a “right to work law.” Based heavily on an ALEC model bill, paycheck deception moved swiftly through Republican-lead committees.

But workers, union and non-union (including hundreds of Working America members), made their voices heard. Emails, letters, and phone calls flooded legislative offices in Jefferson City. The bill passed the Senate after an 8-hour Democratic filibuster, but House legislators were getting skittish. Bill proponents were having a hard time answering simple questions about why additional restrictions on union dues were needed. Support for the bill dwindled with each test vote.

“Paycheck deception” passed the House by a narrower than expected margin, and Speaker Jones prepared to move on to “right to work.” But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed paycheck deception, calling it unnecessary. By the September veto session, too many moderate Republicans had abandoned the effort, and the bill died outright.

Did Republicans get the message? Absolutely not. In December special session centered around tax incentives for Boeing, a small group tried and failed to insert “right to work” language. ALEC member Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) called it “a good opportunity to begin that fight” ahead of 2014.

In Ohio, the anti-union effort has centered around gathering petitions to get “right to work” on the 2014 ballot. As we know, you need to get a certain number of signatures to get an issue on the ballot. For Ohio, that number is 385,000, and you always want extra signatures in case some are validated.

The Tea Party group Ohioans for Workplace Freedom started circulating petitions in February 2012. After 20 months, they announced they have collected 100,000 signatures.

At this rate, as Ohio bloggers at Plunderbund noted, the anti-union group would need 40 m0re months to put “right to work” on the ballot. And since they’ve already burned through $118,000 in paid petition gatherers, chances are they’d run out of money first.

Let’s compare that with 2011, when Gov. John Kasich and Republicans in the legislative rammed through the union-busting Senate Bill 5. The bill passed on March 30. On June 29, after only 3 months, We Are Ohio delivered 1.3 million signatures to the Secretary of State to get a repeal of SB 5 on the ballot. In November, SB 5 was repealed by 60 percent of voters.

What’s going on here? What the Tea Party and the anti-union forces in Ohio don’t get is that once you get past a small group of billionaires and right-wing ideologues, there is no desire to restrict collective bargaining in Ohio. None. People are looking for good jobs, affordable health care, and decent schools to send their kids.

Meanwhile, the 2011 battle over Senate Bill 5, largely ignored by the national media, still reverberates throughout the Buckeye State. Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican supporter of SB 5, lost a Senate bid despite more than $19 million in outside aide. Mitt Romney haplessly flip-flopped on SB 5 and consistently delivered an anti-union message, lost in Ohio in part because of union members of all political stripes voting for his opponent. And in 2013, SB 5 supporter Toledo Mayor Mike Bell was ousted, while a Tea Party-backed pension-cutting amendment was rejected in Cincinnati by a 57-point margin.

In Oregon, the story is even shorter.  An Portland attorney named Jill Gibson Odell is sponsoring a “right to work” initiative in her state. Odell is excited about the “national money to be had” to assist her campaign, so she’s not even pretending “right to work” is something Oregonians themselves want. In 2013, little to no progress was made on getting the issue on the ballot, and popular Gov. John Kitzhaber said he will publicly oppose it. Meanwhile, workers in Portland got paid sick days, and a statewide sick leave ordinance is expected to pass in 2014.

What to expect in 2014? Well, as the AP reports, the main targets for “right to work” proponents are Missouri, Ohio, and Oregon, showing that these folks have learned nothing from the past year. While their efforts stall, Americans of all political persuasions are starting to support minimum wage increases, sick leave, wage theft protections, and progressive tax codes in increasing numbers.

Working America will be vigilant to mobilize against any “right to work” measure, wherever it crops up. But make no mistake: Michigan wasn’t the start of a domino effect. It was a wake up call. And outside the right-wing think tank bubble, American workers are fully awake.

Photo by detroitfreepress on Instagram

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial: No Loyalty to ALEC

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new editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlights the recent revelations about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence on state legislators. In particular, the editorial takes umbrage at a proposed loyalty oath for ALEC members that would have required them to place the extremist pro-corporate organization above the needs of constituents and the state and national constitutions:

Last week, British newspaper the Guardian published a series of stories based on secret ALEC documents obtained by reporters. Among the most insidious items was a loyalty oath the organization has proposed for the state chairs of its legislative members.

It reads: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

Imagine that, a Republican like state Sen. Ed Emery of Lamar, a man who claims to be a constitutional conservative, putting ALEC first, over his voters, over his oath to the state, over the very constitution he claims to value.

Mr. Emery, the current ALEC chair in Missouri, is already demonstrating his loyalty, filing an ALEC-inspired bill to erase teacher tenure in the state.

The former ALEC-chairman for Missouri, current Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, is doing his part, as well, supporting anti-union right-to-work legislation for 2014 even while pushing through special session legislation intending to lure thousands of union Boeing jobs to the state.

The editorial takes a strong stance against the influence of ALEC on the state:

Missouri voters should consider such front organizations as offensive to democracy.

Mr. Emery and his ilk can believe what they want, but they should play no part in allowing corporations to hide their agendas, and their lobbying expenses, by pretending to be something they are not. The proof is in ALEC’s actions, which, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank outlined, hid itself behind closed doors in a meeting last week in the nation’s capital, pushing reporters away while claiming they had nothing to hide.

No, ALEC exists solely to hide. To hide money. To hide agendas. To hide its hijacking of democracy.

Read the full editorial.

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Missouri Extremists Get an Early Start on Attacking Working Families for 2014 Legislative Session

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Extremist pro-corporate Republicans in Missouri are getting an early start on attacking the rights of working families by pre-filing a “right to work” for less bill for the 2014 legislative session. While there undoubtedly will be similar attacks in other states in 2014, Missouri is the first state to take formal steps to strip working families of their rights.

This isn’t the first time that “right to work” legislation very similar to model bills created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been proposed in the state—similar legislation was proposed earlier this year and in 2011. Peter Kinder, the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, spoke in favor of the legislation at an ALEC conference in August.

The We Are Missouri coalition is leading the opposition to the legislation. Through a press release, several members of the coalition explained why the legislation was wrong for Missouri.

Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO:

Missouri’s elected leaders should work together to create jobs here in our state. While it isn’t a surprise that extremist politicians would instead file a ‘right to work’ bill on the first day of session, it is shameful that they would make this unnecessary and confusing bill their first priority for 2014. It is time for our elected officials to work together to create good jobs and safe work places instead of trying to micromanage relationships between businesses and their employees.

Bobby Dicken, a utility line crew foreman from Poplar Bluff:

It is simple—“right to work” bills are wrong for Missouri. It’s a corporate power grab that’s in the best interests of CEOs—not our state. Studies have shown that ‘right to work’ means less jobs, lower wages and more dangerous workplaces. I’m disappointed that [Southeast Missouri] area state Rep. Donna Lichtenegger and Speaker Tim Jones seem to be more concerned with doing the bidding of special interest groups like ALEC instead of helping middle-class Missouri families.

Vicki Hurt, who works for the Missouri Children’s Division in Branson:

This bill won’t create a single job. These unnecessary attacks on working people hurt our middle-class families, harm our public schools and put our safety at risk. ‘Right to work’ is a divisive partisan political issue meant to punish labor unions that puts our everyday heroes in danger.

Tell Missouri legislators: we need more jobs, not fewer rights.

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