UAW, GM Team Up to Make It in America

Another great win emerges from autoworkers and industry collaboration. General Motors Co. (GM) will invest more than $1.3 billion to upgrade and expand five manufacturing plants in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana that also will create or retain more than 1,000 jobs, GM and the UAWannounced Monday.

UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, who represents GM workers, calls the investments a “win for American workers.” He says:

The UAW is proud to be a part of this successful collaboration with GM that has helped rebuild the nation’s economy, created good paying, union jobs in communities across the country and brought manufacturing that was moved overseas back to the United States. This is further proof that collective bargaining works.

In 2011, when the UAW negotiated new contracts with the Big Three automakers, the union won commitments from General MotorsFord and Chrysler to invest more than $27.3 billion in their plants, creating 20,000 new jobs at the three automakers and thousands more in the industries that are part of the auto manufacturing supply chain.

At the ceremony at GM’s Flint, Mich., truck assembly plant announcing the investment, GM North America President Mark Reuss told the cheering workers:

These investments are a sign of our confidence in our workforce and our UAW partners that have given and tried so hard and in our vehicles and the continued demand for excellence in each one of these products. You earned this.

Since the auto industry was on the verge of collapse during the Bush recession, car makers and the UAW have worked closely in forging a partnership that was instrumental in securing the financing in 2008 and 2009 that kept the industry alive. Working together not only kept the auto industry afloat and saved tens of thousands of jobs, the negotiated investments like Monday’s GM announcement have opened the doors to good middle-class jobs.

Ashton notes that while income disparity grows in the country and the middle class declines, collective bargaining has created a ladder to the middle class for millions of America’s workers.

This announcement today is further proof that collaboration and collective bargaining works and will continue to be the way that we rebuild America’s middle class.

At the Flint ceremony, Barry Campbell, chairman of UAW Local 598, said he was “proud to pay my union dues, and this is just a great example why.”

GM’s nearly $1.3 billion investment includes:

  • $600 million in Flint Assembly for facility upgrades.
  • $493.4 million in Romulus (Mich.) Powertrain Operations.
  • $121 million in Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly for a logistics optimization center.
  • $30.6 million in Toledo Transmission Operations for increased capacity for an existing six-speed transmission.
  • $29.2 million in Bedford (Ind.) Castings, which includes $22.6 million to produce components for transmissions.

For more on the success of the labor-management partnerships in the auto industry, read Labor Secretary Thomas Perez’s recent article on the UAW and Ford working together. Perez says that is just one example of how:

Across the country, creative labor-management partnerships are saving and creating jobs, keeping businesses competitive, growing the middle class and helping more Americans climb ladders of opportunity.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Ohio Workers Urge Rep. Rick Perales to Support Permanent Medicaid Expansion

At 9:40 am, Monday, November 25th, Working America members and activists will gather at a press conference to urge Ohio State Rep. Rick Perales (R-Beaver Creek) to support a permanent expansion of Medicaid in Ohio. While the Ohio controlling board extended Medicaid through July 2015, legislative action will be needed to make the expansion permanent.

The Medicaid expansion is critical to Ohio’s economic health. It is projected to create approximately 25,000 jobs in Ohio, and would cover approximately 300,000 Ohioans by 2016 if it is extended. Because of the federal money that the expansion draws into the state, it will also save Ohio taxpayers over $1.8 billion.

“Expanding Medicaid is the only policy that makes sense,” said Emma Godsey, a community organizer with Working America. “It will help cover uninsured Ohioans, create jobs and save the state money. Failing to make the expansion permanent is a grave mistake, and it would hurt all of us.”

“My family will be directly affected by Medicaid expansion, and we need to know that we can count on it,” said Shonda Sneed, a Working America member. “Medicaid expansion will help keep my family balanced, and will help us balance the state budget, too.”

WHAT: Press conference urging extension of Medicaid expansion

WHO: Working America organizers, members and allies

WHERE: Beaver Creek City Hall Council Chambers, 1368 Research Drive, Beaver Creek, OH

WHEN: 9:40 am November 25th

Contact: Emma Godsey: 614-376-9272

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If You Aren’t Sure Walmart Needs to Pay Higher Wages, This Photo Will Erase All Doubt

The photo above comes from the Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton, Ohio.

The bins aren’t to collect cans for a food pantry somewhere else in the city. They are meant to collect food for Walmart associates themselves.

Here’s some context. The average Walmart sale associate makes $8.81 per hour, according to the independent market research group IBISWorld. That translates into $15,576 a year if the associate works a full-time schedule of 34 hours a week. But that’s actually pegging it quite high, as many associates have highly erratic or meager work schedules that don’t allow them anywhere close to full-time status.

For a three-person household (two parents and a child, for instance), the 2013 federal poverty level is $19,530.

When their paychecks don’t cut it, many associates turn to public assistance to make up the difference. Walmart’s low wages and insufficient scheduling are behind the enormous costs to the taxpayer incurred by each store. One Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers $900,000 in Medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance, and other forms of public assistance.

But beyond the numbers are the associates themselves, juggling unpredictable schedules and light paychecks, who see the food bins as a sign that the company sees their struggle as the rule, not the exception:

An employee at the Canton store wasn’t feeling that Walmart was looking out for her when she went to her locker more than two weeks ago and discovered the food drive containers. To her, the gesture was proof the company acknowledged many of its employees were struggling, but also proof it was not willing to substantively address their plight.

The employee said she didn’t want to use her name for fear of being fired. In a dozen years working at the company, she had never seen a food drive for employees, which she described as “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing”.

An analysis by Fortune shows that Walmart can afford to give its employees a 50 percent raise without hurting its bottom line. But low wages are only one part of the widespread culture of disrespect, retaliation, and indifference Walmart shows its employees.

More than ever before, associates are standing up to this culture, and we’re standing with them. On November 29, 2013, protests are planned at Walmart stores across the country, and all are welcome to stand in solidarity with associates.

Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer. They have set the standard for an entire generation of business practices. Whether or not we shop there, what they do at their company affects all of us.

Visit BlackFridayProtests.org to find an event near you.

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Tea Party Ballot Measure Absolutely Crushed by Ohio Voters

An overhaul of Cincinnati’s pension system backed by the Tea Party was thoroughly crushed on Tuesday. Cincinnati voters rejected the charter amendment, known as Issue 4, by a 57-point margin.

Issue 4 was placed on the ballot by a private group known as the Cincinnati for Pension Reform Committee. It would have required the city to pay off its $872 million unfunded liability in the current pension system within 10 years, or find cost savings or new revenue elsewhere to make up the difference.

Making up that huge gap, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, is nearly impossible in 10 years. That’s the point: Issue 4 was a barely concealed attempt to force cuts to public services in Cincinnati, and generally pit the city’s citizens against the workers who make it run.

The city is already taking steps to address the $872 million liability in a number of ways–and as with most cities, the public workers themselves are bearing the brunt. Issue 4 would have put those changes on steroids, and would have lead to either tax increases or cuts to public safety and city services: closed firehouses, slower emergency response times, and staffing shortages when we need help the most.

It’s no wonder then that opposing Issue 4 united unlikely allies: the Chamber of Commerce, AFSCME, firefighters, and the editorial board of the right-leaning Cincinnati Enquirer. “Today’s vote will be heard beyond Cincinnati and sends a message for those on the ideological extremes who think it is ok to impose their agenda on an entire city,” said Peter Linden of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, “Had this passed, outside money and political extremists would have cost Cincinnati taxpayers more money, with less services.”

It’s been two years since Ohio voters of all political stripes overturned Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, which stripped collective bargaining from over 300,000 public workers. It’s been one year since Ohio voters chose pro-worker Senator Sherrod Brown over the Tea Party-affiliated Josh Mandel. Since that time, the effort to get a so-called “right to work” on the 2014 Ohio ballot has faltered, collecting less than a third of the signatures needed in 20 months.

It’s time that the corporate-backed anti-worker forces in Ohio get it through their heads that Ohioans are interested in more jobs and a stronger economy; not fewer rights at work, fewer public services, and attacks on the workers who are already making the most sacrifices.

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The Latest Sign That So-Called “Right to Work” Is Extremely Unpopular in Ohio

Ohioans for Workplace Freedom, supporters of a so-called “right to work” law in Ohio reached a major milestone in October: they have collected 100,000 signatures to get the measure on the November 2014 ballot.

Here’s the thing: they need at least 385,000 signatures to get on the ballot, and they’ll also want to far exceed that number to account for duplicates or invalid signatures

Here’s the other thing: the group has been collecting signatures for since February 2012. That’s 20 months.

As the Ohio political observers at Plunderbund point out, at this rate they would need “another 40 months” to qualify for the ballot. “The longer the process takes, the more likely they are to receive duplicate signatures,” writes Plunderbund’s Joseph Mismas, “At this rate, Ohioans could vote to make Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States before we ever get a chance to vote on another anti-union measure in Ohio.”

Let’s compare this effort with a similar project two years ago.

In 2011, Working America and allies sought to repeal Senate Bill 5, a measure pushed by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican legislature to strip collective bargaining rights from Ohio public workers.

That bill passed on March 30, 2011. Only three months later, on June 29, 2011, pro-worker groups delivered nearly 1.3 million signatures to Columbus. Over 915,000 were found to be valid by the Secretary of State’s office. In November, two years ago this month, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to repeal Senate Bill 5.

The fact is, the majority of Ohioans are looking for policies improve their lives: investments in education, strengthening the safety net, and creating good, family-sustaining jobs. In every state they have been enacted, “right to work” laws result in lower wages, fewer people with health insurance, more people living in poverty, and more workplace injuries and fatalities.

2011’s massive rejection of attacks on workers and the 2012 defeat of anti-worker candidates like Josh Mandel and Mitt Romney haven’t phased the folks at Ohioans for Workplace Freedom. But if losing elections and lack of interest in their narrow ideological agenda doesn’t cause them to change course, maybe their balance sheets will: according to latest reports, the group has spent over $118,187 on petition circulators since July. Do they really want to spend that kind of cash on a lost cause for another 40 months?

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1 Victory on Local Pensions, 5 Battles to Watch

Pension battles are heating up in cities across the nation as conservatives and Republicans are pushing to strip public workers of their retirement plans, often with little or nothing offered as a replacement. The primary argument, although a false one, is that these pensions are “too expensive” and that during times of fiscal woes, cities can’t afford them. In reality, these plans are often little more than veiled attempts to abandon commitments to workers and shift spending to more conservative priorities.

Working families had a victory in Tucson, Ariz., this month when a judge threw an initiative off the November ballot after it was determined that many of the required signatures gathered to put the question before the voters were improperly gathered. The initiative would’ve eliminated the city’s pension plan and replaced it with a 401(k)-style plan.

While there was a victory for working families in Arizona, pension plans in numerous other cities aren’t quite as safe. Here are five cities to watch as pension plans become a more prominent target of conservatives:

1. Cincinnati: A group of mostly out-of-state tea party activists, including the Liberty Initiative Fund from Virginia, succeeded in gathering enough signatures to put an initiative on the Nov. 13 ballot that is very similar to the one that just failed in Tucson. The plan, if passed, would eliminate the city’s pension fund for any future hires, replacing it with 401(k)-style private funds directed by individual employees, effectively privatizing the pension system. Many of the city employees who would be in the new plans are not eligible for Social Security and would have no safety net to fall back on if the stock market did poorly or they failed to successfully manage their new accounts.

2. Jacksonville, Fla.:  The Pew Charitable Trust is partnering with the John & Laura Arnold Foundation and is expected to promote what is called a “cash balance” plan to replace the city’s current pension plan. If the plan mirrors what Pew proposed in Kentucky, it would amount to a significant reduction in retirement savings for future retirees, who would get a set cash amount based on years of service. This measure has not been officially proposed yet.

3. Memphis, Tenn.: The mayor’s office is proposing a series of pension changes that the local Fire Fighters (IAFF) call a barrage of attacks on workers. The proposed changes include setting a minimum age to receive retirement benefits, reducing benefits for employees who take early retirement and using a salary average to determine pension benefits.

4. Phoenix: Citizens for Pension Reform is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would switch the city’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan and capping potential benefits for current employees. The switch, similar to the proposals in other cities, would amount to a benefit cut.

5. Tulsa, Okla.: The mayor is also suggesting making the change from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. The change would affect only new employees and would not include firefighters or police, who are enrolled in a state-managed retirement system.

Photo via Arizona AFL-CIO on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Demanding Jobs and Fair Taxes in Ohio

The tax structure in Ohio is grossly unfair: the richest 1% pay a state tax rate of about 6.3%. The rest of us pay about 10% to 12%.

There’s a silver lining here: it means that there’s untapped potential revenue to pay for great schools, infrastructure, local government services, health care and more. To fund aggressive job creation improve quality of life, we could simply rearrange the tax code so that the richest Ohioans are paying a bottom-line rate that is closer to the rates that the rest of us are already paying. This would directly create good jobs providing vital services—and it would create private sector jobs by putting money directly into the pockets of the people providing these services. That money would be spent in businesses, who would hire more employees to meet the demand. That’s how economics works when the economy is depressed, like it is right now.

That’s the vision behind Working America’s listening tour and educational campaign around the state budget this year. We reached out to 10,000 members to see how they responded. Members were overwhelmingly supportive of the campaign: more than 3,000 took the time to write personal, handwritten letters about how fair taxes would help their communities. Most of our members are moderates and conservatives, but it doesn’t matter where you stand in terms of political ideology. Hardly anyone thinks that it makes sense, or is fair, for the richest people to pay a far lower tax rate than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we have a Governor and a legislature whose views on this issue are directly opposed to the views of most working Ohioans. Before he was first elected, the Governor expressed his hope that the income tax would be phased out completely. The income tax is the main tax that richer Ohioans have to pay, but a relatively small share of the taxes paid by the rest of us. Sure enough, Kasich is doing everything he can to make taxes even more unfair. Hi proposed budget would have given the richest 1% of households a hand-out of more than $10,000 per year–but raise taxes on most Ohioans even further. I’m not kidding.

That hand-out was to be paid for by increasing sales taxes, which hit the rest of us much harder than the rich, and in cuts to education and local governments, including public safety. Public pressure from Working America members helped scale back the Governor’s original obscene requests, but he still ended up giving the richest 1% about $6,000 per year. This was paid for by a sales tax hike, and changes that will either hurt schools or increase local levy costs. The Governor’s budget takes money and resources from the rest of us and gives it to the richest 1%. It just doesn’t make economic sense.

The Governor’s theory seems to be that taking money from the rest of us, and giving it to the rich, will create jobs. Administrations since Governor Taft have been testing this theory for a while now. Starting in 2005, we’ve had continual tax cuts for the rich that helped make our taxes less fair. Since then, we have been 47th in the nation in job creation, just like basic economics would predict. The Governor continued with that failed approach in his first budget, and doubled down on it in the last budget. It should surprise no one that, over the last year, Ohio was once again 47th in the nation in job creation…and the jobs that have been created haven’t been very good. Undeterred by the continued failure of the theory, the Governor has continued to double down on his approach.

Working America members were frustrated by Kasich’s determination to make an unfair and destructive situation even worse. So on August 20th, Working America members, along with allies like the Alliance for Retired Americans, held a press event at the Ohio State House. We brought with us more than 3,000 letters to Governor Kasich.

Unfortunately, when members spoke to the governor’s staff about this important question, we were told that the rich already pay plenty, and were briskly sent on our way.
We aren’t deterred by this response. It is often hard to get political elites to understand how disconnected they are from their constituents, but we are strengthened and encouraged by the results of our listening tour. We’re hopeful, because we know that Ohioans across the political spectrum share our perspective, even if some of our politicians do not.

If you’re feeling like we can’t make a difference, I encourage you to join us as we reach out to communities across Ohio. Ask a few people with different political views if they think it is fair that the rich pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us. You’ll discover that you can find common ground with people you would have never suspected.

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Cleveland Teachers Give Thousands of Books to Local Latino Families

The impact of a child owning a book cannot be overstated, which is why on July 25, the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) partnered with community group Esperanza to donate more than 6,000 books to Latino families in the area.  The event was held in conjunction with the First Book National Book Bank and was part of a community fair that included face painting, hot dogs and other activities organized and staffed by CTU members.

One child, Maria, immediately picked up a book and dove right into reading. Her eyes lit up as she saw the illustrations, said event organizer and CTU member Jillian Ahrens. “She asked if she could have the book and when we responded, ‘of course,’ she had the biggest smile on her face”.

“The turnout was incredible,” said Ahrens.”Having families, educators and children come together to celebrate books and reading was a great way to connect.”

Ahrens went on to talk about the importance of the event:

During the summer, a lot of our families and students may not have access to books. This contributes to summer learning loss. This summer event not only brought much-needed resources to the students of Cleveland, but it also infused the children with a sense of excitement and joy to engage them in reading. The event helped keep students reading over the summer, which will help them as they begin school this fall. By igniting the love of reading within families and children, this event can help set the stage for future academic success.

Books were given out in CTU bags which created a visual impact that could be seen for several blocks around the event, drawing in more people.

Esperanza is a community organization serving the city’s Latino population. CTU says it plans to continue working with First Book during the upcoming school year.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Pursuing Economic Justice in Ohio

Emma Godsey writes from our Columbus office.

A lot of people here in Ohio are fed up with the way they’re being treated by Gov. Kasich and the state legislature—but there’s a way to step up and work for justice. Through Working America, people here in Ohio are forming community action teams to focus on the economic issues that are most important to them. As a member Coordinator for Working America, I’ve had the privilege of getting involved with community action team meetings in Franklin County.

Ohio’s community action teams are focused on a few critical issues, including Medicaid and the state budget. Brynette, a community leader in Franklin County, sees accepting expanded federal Medicaid funds as a key issue for Ohio families. “One thing expanded Medicaid funds will do is give full coverage to older adults, specifically senior citizens who are uninsured. Some seniors who need around-the-clock attention will be finally able to afford 24 hour care,” Brynette said. Expanding Medicaid to 600,000 Ohioans will also cover single adults without children, people with disabilities, and low income households. It will also bring billions of dollars into state revenue. Gov. Kasich supports the expansion of Medicaid, so we’re hopeful that we can get to a victory soon.
Where Kasich hasn’t been helpful, though, is on the recently passed state budget, which has a number of flaws that hurt working-class families. When the budget was first introduced, members were horrified to see Gov. Kasich’s proposed tax changes, which would hand the richest 1% $10,000 a year, leaving the working class to pay the difference. Members immediately took action, writing well over 3,000 letters to State legislators to let them know that they’re paying attention to what they did on the budget. They were able to get the word out about the problems with Kasich’s budget by writing letters to their local newspapers, too. With this pushback from members and our allies, we were able to rein in Kasich’s big tax giveaways to the rich by almost half. Another great accomplishment was getting $250 million dollars put back in the education budget.

We’re glad about what we were able to accomplish on the state budget, but we know we have a long way to go—we want to make sure the biggest corporations and the very rich pay their fair share, so that our schools and the services we depend on get the funding they need. If Kasich thinks we’re just going to accept the policies he’s pushing, he’s got another thing coming.

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Dear David: Underpaid for Overtime

Question:

Hi, David. I work for a home health care franchise that enables seniors to continue living at home. I’ve been told that since my employers have a “temporary part-time” tax status, they do not have to pay overtime. I work 12 hours daily at least five days a week. Sometimes we have to pick up shifts when other staff “no-show, no-call.” We work in two-week pay periods 120-140 hours and do not get any overtime. We only make $9 per hour. I eagerly await your instructions concerning this matter. Thanks in advance.

— Underpaid for Overtime, Ohio

 

Answer:

Caring for seniors is important work, but it can also be challenging—especially when you’re at it for 12 hours a day! That sounds truly exhausting, and I’m sure it’s especially frustrating when you feel like you’re not getting paid what you deserve.

As I’m sure you know, $9 an hour isn’t a ton of money. It’s more than minimum wage, but if minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52. You’re doing important work, and $9 an hour is tough to support yourself—or your family—on.

It’s not just the pay scale that’s tough to stomach here. You shouldn’t have to rely on working 60-70 hours per week because your employer doesn’t pay you enough, and you really shouldn’t be forced into working 60-70 hours because your employer is apparently unwilling to staff up properly. You’re right to question the status quo.

I’m not really sure what your employer means by “temporary part-time tax status” and how it would affect overtime. It might be good just to note that, although there are several types of exemptions, the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirement applies to most workers, and you’ll probably want to look a little deeper into whether you are covered rather than just taking the employer’s word for it. (If you think you need professional legal advice on this question, one of the benefits of being a member of Working America is access to a free 30-minute consultation with an attorney. You can learn more here.)

Let’s take another approach to this, though. Let’s say that your employer does have some kind of exemption to overtime. That doesn’t mean you have to take it or leave it—you could take a page from other home care workers in a similar situation. I’m sure you’re not alone in being fed up, so one of your options is to get together with your co-workers and strategize ways you can get your employer to meet your interests. If enough of you share the same concerns and are fed up with low pay, long hours, short staffing or anything else—it may be time to get organized. You’ll have a lot more strength acting together than individually. You can start here: use FixMyJob.com to diagnose the problem and OrganizeWith.Us to make a plan.

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