K&P Carwasheros Ignore Intimidation, Organize Instead

Photo courtesy RWDSU

Despite attempts by both the ownership of the K&P Car Wash and the Association of Car Wash Owners to intimidate them, workers at the K&P Car Wash in New York voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an affiliate of the United Food and Commercial Workers. K&P becomes the ninth car wash to unionize since a campaign was launched in 2012.

K&P employee Jose Pedro Calderon said:

We organized ourselves because we want to have a union contract that guarantees us better working conditions. But, most importantly, we organized ourselves because we wanted respect.

As the organizing drive was ongoing, K&P shut down the car wash one afternoon while members of the Association of Car Wash Owners led a captive-audience meeting. Workers report that the meeting was an attempt to make them fearful that the business could be shut down if they joined the union.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said the latest victory in the WASH campaign to organize carwasheros in New York was part of a larger movement:

This is our ninth victory in a row, and we have achieved first contracts in every other organized car wash thus far. Low-wage workers—regardless of immigration status—are coming together and standing up for better working conditions and respect on the job. We are proud of the carwasheros and welcome them to the RWDSU family.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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12 Recent Victories for Workers in Raising Wages and Collective Bargaining

While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.

1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.

2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW PlantAuto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.

3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.

4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.

5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.

6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.

7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.

8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.

9.  Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.

10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.

11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengtheningfinancial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.

12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.

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Obama and Biden to Push for Infrastructure Spending on Wednesday

Photo courtesy Andrew Dallos on Flickr

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will visit the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, where he will call on more federal spending for infrastructure projects.  Obama has made numerous proposals to increase spending on bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects, but Republicans in Congress have blocked those efforts. The Tappan Zee Bridge is currently in the process of being replaced, financed by a record $1.6 billion federal loan. The old bridge, which opened in 1955, has fallen into disrepair and is serving a daily capacity above what it was designed for. While Congress has failed to provide the funds needed to move forward, Obama is using alternate methods, such as the loan, to help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

“The President will also highlight efforts by the administration to cut through red tape and modernize the federal infrastructure permitting process, and reduce project approval time lines,” the White House official said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will appear in Cleveland to give a speech on similar themes of investing in infrastructure and the economy.

As part of Infrastructure Week 2014, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will speak at a rally on Thursday in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters about the vital need for upgrading our infrastructure and the positive impact doing so will have on the economy.

Trumka said:

Putting money in roads and bridges is like planting seed corn. Investing in good jobs yields a good return. When you put seed in the ground, you get something to harvest. When you put cement in the ground, you get roads. When you put steel in the ground, you get train tracks. You get it. But if you don’t put that seed in the ground, that’s not smart. It’s not sensible. It’s not “thinking like business.” It’s cutting yourself off at the knees. And that’s what these politicians are doing to the American economy….

Trumka pointed to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers report that said the country needs to spend $3.6 trillion just to make sure that our current infrastructure doesn’t fall apart, with a similar investment needed to create the next generation infrastructure that will grow the economy.

Follow updates on infrastructure week on Twitter using the hashtag #RebuildRenew and learn more about Thursday’s Jobs and Infrastructure Rally in Washington, D.C., here.

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Class-Action Suit: McDonald’s and Franchisees Accused of Wage Theft

Photo courtesy Ben Gilman on Flickr

class-action lawsuit has been filed against McDonald’s and the company’s franchisees in three states, alleging various forms of wage theft at restaurants in California, Michigan and New York, Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports. Among the accusations are stores not paying properly for overtime hours, workers being required to clean uniforms off the clock and employees being required to show up for work, but not allowed to clock in when business is slow.

Eidelson argues that one of the key aspects of the lawsuit is that it will shine a light on how heavy a role the corporation plays in the running of franchise restaurants it doesn’t own:

The most significant threat posed by the potential class actions—one apparent arm in a campaign of media, consumer, political, economic and workplace pressure on fast food giants—may be its potential to draw scrutiny and force disclosures about the relationship between the giant McDonald’s corporation, which netted over $5 billion in profit last year, and its smaller individual franchisees, which are the legal employers of most McDonald’s workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama Seeks to Restore Overtime Pay for Millions of Workers Denied Under Bush-Era Rules

Pete Souza. The Official White House Photostream/Wikimedia

In 2004, President George W. Bush, at the urging of business groups, used his executive powers to change overtime eligibility rules and allow businesses to deny overtime for millions of workers. Tomorrow, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that he will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to update overtime eligibility rules to restore overtime protection that workers have lost to inflation since 1975.

Under federal overtime regulations, workers who earn less than a certain salary level are generally entitled to overtime protection. For decades after enactment of the federal overtime law in 1938, this salary threshold was updated every few years as a routine matter. However, the last regular adjustment to the salary level was made by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. No further adjustments were made for the next 29 years, and as a result, workers’ overtime protections have been steadily eroded by inflation.

Obama is expected to announce tomorrow that the Labor Department will update the salary threshold for overtime eligibility. Above this salary level, workers may be denied overtime protection if they are considered executive management, administrative management or professionals. Below this salary level, workers cannot be denied overtime protection for these reasons.

However, it is not clear how much the president will propose to increase the salary level. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has recommended an increase to $970 per week ($50,440 per year), which would restore all of the overtime protection lost to inflation since 1975.

New York and California already require companies to pay overtime to anyone earning less than $600 and $640 per week, respectively. Those salary levels are set to increase to $675 and $800 per week by 2016.

The current federal threshold of $455 per week—or $23,660 per year—is ridiculously low. It is barely above the federal poverty level for a family of four. A White House official explained that overtime protections have eroded to such an extent that millions of workers who should not be denied overtime protection are being left unprotected.

For example, a convenience store manager or a fast-food shift supervisor or an office worker may be expected to work 50 or 60 hours a week or more, making barely enough to keep a family out of poverty, and not receive a dime of overtime pay.

EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey says many of the workers who would benefit from restored overtime protection are insurance clerks, secretaries, low-level managers, social workers, bookkeepers, dispatchers, sales and marketing assistants and employees in scores of other occupations.

As the rules stand now, an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant who spends 95 percent of his (or her) time cooking fries, running a cash register, sweeping floors and moving supplies into and out of the freezer can be denied any overtime pay and work 60 or 70 hours a week if his salary is at least $23,660 a year. Because he is exempt [from overtime protection], the hourly rate of his salary can fall below the minimum wage; “executives” are excluded from minimum wage protection, too.

Last December, President Obama called attention to growing economic inequality in America and declared that making sure the economy works for working people is the defining challenge of our time and drives everything he does as president. With Republicans blocking the legislative agenda he campaigned on in 2012, the president has vowed to act within his executive powers to make sure the economy workers for everyone. Today’s announcement follows on the heels of his January executive order requiring federal contractors on all new or renewed contracts to pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour.

Also Democrats in Congress and the president are attempting to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. If you think workers deserve a raise, sign this petition.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Port Authority Warns Airlines to Raise Wages or Lose New York Airport Slots

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Patrick Foye, sent a letter to the heads of American, JetBlue and United airlines, warning them that they could lose their slots in the new central terminal at LaGuardia Airport if they don’t improve pay and benefits to workers at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports. Nearly 6,000 contract workers for the three airlines are paid at near-minimum wage levels with no benefits. Meanwhile, Cuomo said that he wants to improve the airports to world-class status.

Higher pay requirements for contract workers will be included in the lease provisions for the airlines, according to the New York Daily News. An aide to the governor said the administration isn’t concerned that the airlines will leave the city because the traffic to the nation’s biggest city is too high and too valuable to the companies.

Foye’s letter said the airlines should act quickly and that he was adamant the workers be assisted as soon as possible:

Providing an improved wage and benefits package to the thousands of hardworking men and women who make our airport system the largest in the country is something that cannot wait. The Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its disposal to achieve these goals. By taking this action, we will together treat these workers justly, reduce turnover, enhance service levels and place all airlines at the NYC Port Authority airports on a level taxiway so to speak.

Previously, Foye demanded that the three airlines, as well as Delta, increase wages for those contract workers making under $9 by at least $1 per hour and that the airlines make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday. Delta agreed to the request, the other airlines did not.

Hector Figueroa, president SEIU Local 32BJ, praised Cuomo and the Port Authority for their efforts: “It shows the a difference that leadership makes. Gov. Cuomo is standing firm behind the Port Authority and the Port Authority is using its power to really do the right thing.”

“The Port Authority is using its leverage to bring about positive change. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also now a requirement for doing business in New York City. We feel everything is aligned to make a difference for New York airport workers,” Figueroa said. “We, of course, need to complete the process of lifting this group of New Yorkers out of poverty and put them on a path to the middle class by agreeing on comprehensive wage and benefit reforms at all our airports. This must include Newark airport workers.”

Prince Jackson, who works for Delta Air Lines contractor Air Serv providing security at Terminal 2 at JFK, said he was happy to hear the good news.

“Even though it’s only a dollar raise to start,” Jackson said, “it’ll make a difference. That’s $40 a week. I’ll be able to pay more of my bills.”

Photo by Phillip Capper on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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NBC Workers Have a Special Delivery for Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz

Peacock Productions workers are heading to NBC’s headquarters, “30 Rock,” on Thursday to deliver petitions to MSNBC hosts, including Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Lawrence O’Donnell, asking them to meet with the workers and stand with the workers who are seeking union representation on the job.

As we’ve reported before, NBC production workers have been trying to form a union for a more than a year with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). But Peacock Productions, a subsidiary of NBC, has not acted in good faith in negotiations. Chris Hayes met with the workers in December but no other MSNBC host has done the same.

Salon’s Josh Eidelson writes:

“Frankly,” said Writers Guild of America–East Organizing Director Justin Molito, “if we don’t have people overcoming their personal fears and speaking out that are in such high-profile positions as MSNBC hosts, what does that say about the climate of fear at NBC?”

Peacock Productions workers and fellow WGA-E activists plan to show up at 30 Rock on Thursday with petitions addressed to five MSNBC anchors: Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz and Chris Hayes. Molito told Salon the activists will ask for the hosts to be paged to come downstairs and personally receive the letter, which was backed by the AFL-CIO and hosted by MoveOn, and now boasts 10,000-some supporters.

Maddow, O’Donnell, Sharpton, Schultz, Hayes and NBC did not respond to Friday inquiries, or to past requests for comment on the Peacock Productions dispute.

Support the NBC production workers by helping them get to 15,000 signatures on their petition here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Union Members Play Big Part in Super Bowl Game Plan

Sunday is the first outdoor, cold weather site Super Bowl in the game’s 48-year history. The frigid weather in the weeks leading up to the game and expected temps in the 20s and 30s won’t stop the thousands of union members who are bringing you the game. On the scene at MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands or behind the scenes at many facilities in the Metro New York-New Jersey area, union members are making the nation’s national party day possible.

So, as a preview before you sit back, open a beverage and eat far too many snacks that are far from healthy, we introduce Sunday’s starting union lineup.

Of course, on the field, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos players are members of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), and the men in the striped shirts are members of the NFL Referees Association.

The announcers, camera operators, technicians, field workers and other hardworking folks bringing the game to your flat-screened football cave or favorite Broncos or Seahawks bar include members of SAG-AFTRA, Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA (NABET-CWA), Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Laborers (LIUNA).

The annual over-the-top halftime show is a down-to-the-second, choreographed, on-the-field, off-the-field 12-minute extravaganza made possible by the skills of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) and other performing artists. Anyone who takes in a show in the city likely will enjoy the talents of Actors’ Equity (AEA).

For the fans who head for the concessions, their hot dogs will be served and their beer will be drawn by men and women from UNITE HERE Local 100.

Away from the stadium, union members are making an impact, too. Folks taking the area’s huge mass transit system are being safely delivered to their destinations by members of the Transport Workers (TWU), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and United Transportation Union (UTU).

A large number of the area’s hotels are staffed by members of unions of the New York Hotel Trades Council. Many of the firefighters, emergency medical personnel and other public service workers who are ensuring a safe and efficient Super Bowl week are members of the Fire Fighters (IAFF) and AFSCME.

Of course, the fans who flew in for the big game got there safely, thanks to aviation workers from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Air Line Pilots (ALPA), Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Transport Workers (TWU) and Machinists (IAM).

Also, a big thanks to AFT and NFLPA for raising awareness about human trafficking during large sports events such as the Super Bowl.

Image via @northjerseybrk on Twitter

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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12 Ways the State Policy Network Could Assault the Rights of Working Families in 2014

new article from the Guardian reveals that the State Policy Network (SPN) is planning a significant assault on the rights of working families in 2014 state legislative sessions. Through the Searle Freedom Trust, a foundation it created in 2011, SPN plans to offer sizable grants to supposedly independent, non-partisan think tanks in the states. SPN collected 40 grant proposalsfrom these think tanks and will grant funding through Searle to 20 of them. The proposals are for numerous extreme right-wing policy options, very similar to those proposed by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the think tanks already receive funding from the typical extremist anti-working family funders like the Koch brothers.

While SPN claims tax-exempt status that limits their lobbying efforts and the group says that it and the groups it funds don’t engage in lobbying, those claims don’t quite pass a commonsense examination. As the Guardian notes:

Most of the “think tanks” involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of “media campaigns” aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to “advancing model legislation” and “candidate briefings,” in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.

Depending on which 20 proposals it chooses to fund, here are 12 ways that SPN could assault the rights of working families in 2014:

1. Alabama Policy Institute: Requested $25,725 to fund the “spark plug” for eliminating the state income tax. Such a plan would lead to the cutting of services for working families. (Also requested for tax cuts or elimination: Advance Arkansas Institute, $35,000; Georgia Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Nebraska’s Platte Institute for Economic Research, $25,000; New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, $30,000; Ohio’s Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, $40,000; and Opportunity Ohio, $35,000).

2. Delaware’s Caesar Rodney Institute: Requested $36,000 to fund strategies to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which would lower wages for working families.

3. Florida’s James Madison Institute: Requested $40,000 to fund efforts to promote vouchers (which they call Education Savings Accounts), which would reduce funding for public schools. Lower public education funding would lead to worsening student performance and teacher layoffs. (Also requested on this topic: Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute, $40,000.)

4. Georgia Center for Opportunity: Requested $65,000 to fund opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would mean fewer residents have health care. (Also requested on this same topic: North Carolina’s J.W. Pope Civitas Institute, $46,500; Texas Public Policy Foundation, $40,000; Utah’s Sutherland Institute, $50,000.)

5. Illinois Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to fight to change Chicago’s public employee pension system to a defined-contribution plan, which would mean less retirement security for working families. (Also requested on cutting public employee pensions: Arizona’s Goldwater Institute for Public Policy, $40,000; Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment, $40,000; Missouri’s Show-Me Institute, $25,000; Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation, $35,500.)

6. Maryland Public Policy Institute: Requested $40,000 to push for cuts in corporate tax rates, which would lead to the cutting of services for working families.

7. Maine Heritage Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to eliminate state and local income taxes and institute “right to work” for less in one county as a model for future endeavors. If the campaign succeeds, working families will face service cuts and lower wages.

8. Mississippi Center for Public Policy: Requested $30,000 to oppose gas tax increases and privatize the state Department of Transportation, which would lead to weakened services for state residents and lower accountability on transportation issues. (Also requested on privatization: Massachusetts’ Pioneer Institute, $40,000).

9. Common Sense Institute of New Jersey: Requested $50,000 for a campaign to eliminate the compensation of public employees for unused sick leave, which would lower the overall compensation package for employees and encourage public employee absenteeism.

10. Nevada Policy Research Institute: Requested $35,000 to fund a campaign to get union members to leave their unions, which would weaken the collective bargaining rights of working families.

11. Empire Center for New York State Policy: Requested $36,500 to fund efforts to eliminate the estate tax, which would lead to service cuts for working families and shift the tax burden in the state from the wealthy toward working families.

12. Washington Policy Center: Requested $35,000 to launch a campaign to require local governments to have a super-majority to raise taxes, which would cripple local governments and lead to cuts in services for working families.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Immigrant, Latino Construction Workers at Bigger Risk of Death from Falls

A disproportionate number of Latinos and immigrants are disproportionately killed in fall accidents in New York, according to a new study by the Center for Popular Democracy, because they work in construction in relatively high numbers; are concentrated in smaller, nonunion firms; and are over-represented in the contingent labor pool.

According to Fatal Inequality: Workplace Safety Eludes Construction Workers of Color in New York State:

  • In the state of New York, Latinos and immigrants suffered 60% of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-investigated fatal falls from elevation fatalities.
  • In New York City, 74% of victims of fatal falls were Latinos and immigrants.
  • 86% of Latinos and immigrants killed in falls from an elevation in the state were working for nonunion employers.

Latino construction workers said they feared retaliation from their employers if they raised concerns about safety conditions. The report also points to an underfunded and understaffed OSHA and penalties for safety violations that are “so small that employers can see them as just an incidental cost of doing business.”

The report warns that matters could get worse because the construction and insurance industries are proposing an amendment to weaken the state’s Scaffold Law, which requires owners and contractors to provide appropriate and necessary equipment, such as safe hoists, ladders and scaffolds. The law holds owners and contractors fully liable if their failure to follow the law causes a worker to be injured or killed. It would shift responsibility for workplace safety from owners and contractors, who control site safety, to workers, who do not.

You can read an executive summary of the report here or download the entire report here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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