Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:
1. Increasing the Minimum Wage
Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.
2. Passing “Buy America” Laws
Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.
3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days
Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.
4. Protecting Immigrant Workers
In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.
5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers
Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).
6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job
In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.
7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media
Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.
8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality
Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.
9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers
Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.
10. Protecting Voting Rights
Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.
The average food stamp recipient receives about $31 a week ($4.42 a day) for groceries and that’s apparently too much for House Republicans—who by the way earn about $3,350 a week plus perks and seem to work about three days a week for maybe 40 weeks of the year. But I digress.
This week the House passed a farm bill that, for the first time 40 years, does not include funds for food stamps. Their reasoning, as flawed as it is, is that the program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is far too generous and far too big and needs to be cut by at least 20%. Maybe they should try to do what their colleague Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) recently did—just see how far that $30 stretches and then live on it for a week.
20% of them [food stamp recipients] are seniors, half of them are kids and the majority of the rest are working for low wages. I sure don’t begrudge them the little bit of help they’re getting.…There are lots of things I think members of Congress should have to do to be more in touch with reality. This would be one of them.
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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka appeared together Wednesday at a Center for American Progress event to call on the U.S. Senate to move forward on confirming President Obama’s nominations to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If those confirmations fail to be approved, the board would fall below a quorum on Aug. 1 and no longer would be able to do its job of protecting America’s workers.
The NLRB is important because it protects all workers, not just those in unions, said Trumka. “We can’t let a few obstructionist senators hide behind excuses and let a law enforcement agency that protects working people shut down,” he said.
Kathleen Von Eitzen is a baker at Panera Bread in Michigan who spoke at the CAP event. She is one of 18 bakers who voted to be represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers(BCTGM) amid opposition from Panera. The NLRB ruled in favor of Von Eitzen and her co-workers, but their case is in limbo because of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s ruling on President Obama’s NLRB recess appointments. Meanwhile, her fellow workers have had their hours cut, evaluations negatively impacted and even have been fired. But Von Eitzen refuses to give up the fight. She says the NLRB is key.
“We need our union,” she said. “We need a National Labor Relations Board to protect our rights. My co-workers in Michigan and working people all over who want a voice on the job are counting on the Senate to do what’s right and confirm the nominees to the NLRB.”
Republicans are filibustering appointments to four government agencies that protect workers’ and consumers’ rights: the NLRB, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Labor. This obstruction keeps them from functioning properly. “It benefits Big Business,” Trumka said. “It doesn’t benefit workers, whether they are union or nonunion.” Corporate America, he said, benefits from this obstruction, and 79% of Republican contributions come from Big Businesses that benefit from these agencies being hampered.
Current law protecting workers’ rights is too weak and too slow and Republicans want to weaken that even further. Trumka said that the rest of the civilized world has much stronger protections for workers and it’s time the United States joins them.
During the current economic crisis, workers have seen falling wages and increasing costs, Merkley said. Protections for workers have to be in place and workers have to have the ability to join together. “We the people,” he said, “is being replaced by ‘we the powerful’.”
There has to be a very clear path on executive nominations in the Senate, but Republicans aren’t playing fair. Merkley said:
This has been Lucy and the football with Charlie Brown…we have to have a clear path to an up-and-down vote.
Trumka rejected Republican claims that recess appointments are somehow invalid, noting that every president since Jimmy Carter has made recess appointments to the NLRB. The president had no choice but to make the appointments. “Their job [Republican senators] is to advise and consent, not negotiate and extort. There is no question that they are clearly abusing the system and stopping democracy from working.”
Merkley said less than one-half of one chamber of the legislative branch is obstructing the actions of the executive branch that was recently re-elected by the public. He said frustration with Republicans is rising in the chamber and there might be enough outrage to make changing the filibuster rules possible. He noted that when Republicans were in power, they threatened to eliminate the filibuster and they have repeatedly violated the spirit of the Senate rules in order to block the president’s appointments. Trumka agreed: “You have proven to us this isn’t about the qualifications of the presidents’ nominees, it’s about the ability to obstruct.”
The sun was shining in Salem, Oregon for the May 1st rally for workers’ and immigrants’ rights, where a diverse and lively crowd of over three thousand gathered and cheered. Chants of “Si Se Puede” echoed off the capital building onto a sea of families, students, and activists waving American and rainbow flags, as well as handmade signs reading “Keep Families Together” and thank you’s to the governor.
Governor John Kitzhaber joined the May Day March to sign into law Senate Bill 833, the Safe Roads Act, a bill that provides access to driver’s licenses to all Oregon workers, including immigrants. This bill ensures that everyone in Oregon has the ability to drive themselves to work, school and everywhere else our busy lives take us, legally and safely. The Governor signed the bill into law on the steps of the capitol, a historic first, cheered on by many voices, including the Oregon AFL-CIO, CAUSA, PCUN, labor unions, faith leaders, law enforcement, and Working America.
Governor Kitzhaber said:
Today I signed into law a bill that not only improves our public safety, but helps Oregonians integrate into and contribute to our society and economy…
This bill is motivated by a larger vision – one where all Oregonians deserve and get their shot at the American dream…
Where we are creating secure jobs with upward income mobility, and supporting safe, secure communities where people have a sense of common purpose and commitment to one another….
We are celebrating the promise of a better future, for every Oregonian. And we are celebrating that our democracy is made stronger – in fact, our democracy is made possible – because we share that belief in the American Dream and are working together to achieve it.
As of January 1, 2014, tens of thousands of immigrants – and many elderly and homeless people – who are unable to show the correct documentation living in Oregon will be eligible to obtain a four year driver’s license.
In the weeks before the rally, Working America organizers talked to nearly 1,300 community members about this important bill, and many wrote letters to their representatives to express their support for safety and equality.
Member Alex C. in Portland wrote, “This is a common sense approach to the real life needs of people in our state, ALL of the residents and employees of our great state.”
Lisa A. in Hillsboro gave a parent’s perspective. “As a mother, it’s important to me to know that all drivers on the road are able to obtain and have insurance, to help keep my children and our community as a whole safe,” she wrote.
Our members and our allies continue to stand together to continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and we thank our representatives who heard our voices loud and clear and voted yes on the Safe Roads Act. ¡Si Se Puede!
The joint effort known as the “Oregon Organizing Project” has helped more than 3,000 Oregon workers win a voice on the job in the past several months. In the most recent campaign, several Oregon unions pitched in and worked together to help more than 300 Head Start workers at Mount Hood Community College who wanted to form a union to address serious workplace concerns.
Monday night in Portland, those workers took the first official step in winning that union when they filed a petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to recognize the Oregon State Employees Association (OSEA)/AFT as their union.
The efforts include not just union organizers, but rank-and-file union members who share their experiences and explain how union membership has benefited their co-workers and their families.
The Mount Hood campaign was formed around such issues as greater job security, having a voice in day-to-day operations and crucial budget decisions, equitable health care for part-time workers and proper job training.
The astounding diversity of the Head Start employees required literature and outreach in several languages, including English, Spanish and Russian. AFT organizer Lesly Salinas says her own bicultural experience helped her understand the perspective of a Head Start employee who experiences what Salinas calls “two different ways of being.”
“We found other ways to relate,” says Salinas. “I don’t think there was a big cultural divide. They’re just a big, big family and they treat each other with respect.”
In Oregon, no election is necessary if more than 50% of employees in a proposed bargaining unit sign a union authorization card as the Head Start workers did. The ERB could certify the petition sometime in May.
We couldn’t have done this without you. Because of your help and dedication, Working America had saw wins across Oregon and the country.
But our work isn’t done. Portlanders have been fighting to make sure all workers in the city get paid sick days off from work. No one should have to come to work when they’re sick, or leave a sick child at home alone. Portlanders deserve better, and we have a chance to make a difference.
We had a great election night in Oregon, electing pro-worker candidates to the Oregon House and Senate. But a major issue remains in the city of Portland: the 40 percent of private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers without a single paid sick day, who have to choose between their health and a paycheck every day.
On Tuesday, we delivered 3,000 letters from Working America members to Portland City Hall, calling on Mayor Sam Adams, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and other city leaders to take action and allow all Portland workers to earn paid sick days.
With six days to go until the election, Working America Oregon is going full speed ahead. While voters everywhere are abuzz with the presidential election, we’re working hard to get our ballots fully completed to support working families up and down the ballot. Our team is out every night, fanning across the state as far as Eugene to talk to folks about their local elections.
Teaming up with the Oregon AFL-CIO and its affiliates, we’re letting our members know that all of the races count. Democrats hold a 2-vote majority in the State Senate, and the State House is evenly split, 30 to 30. 16 Senators are up for reelection, as are all 60 members of the House. This is where Working America comes in, supporting candidates who will be champions for the middle class in Salem. After seeing the actions of radical state legislatures across the country after the 2010 election, we’re leaving nothing to chance.
We’ve been focusing on important statewide races like Oregon’s Secretary of State, supporting Kate Brown, who has saved Oregon $180 million through effective audits, and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who’s been fighting for middle-class Oregon families, a strong minimum wage, and our state’s most vulnerable.
In Oregon City, Rep. Brent Barton’s 2009 tie-breaking vote to pass the Oregon Healthy Kids Initiative was just one of the reasons our members are supporting him for reelection; we also want to keep him in Salem to support strengthening vocational education and decreasing K-12 classroom sizes. In East Multnomah County, we’ve been getting out the vote for candidates like Chris Gorsek and Shemia Fagan, who will focus on education and preserve local jobs.
Here are some numbers as we enter the final stretch: We’ve knocked on 92,295 doors and talked to 35,798 Oregonians over 5,426 hours in the field. We knock on over 3,000 doors every night, using 33 iPads to log our data.
Our members have handwritten 900 postcards to friends and family about the importance of the coming election. We’ve held 9 postcard writing events, 3 debate watch parties, and driven 5 vans in 7 inches of rain (so far!).
But as we seek to break that 30-30 tie in the House and expand our pro-worker majority in the Senate, here’s the number that matters: We are 1 incredible team, building 1 incredible movement.
In Portland, Oregon, nearly 3,000 Working America members have signed letters urging our Mayor and City Council to pass an ordinance requiring businesses to allow workers to earn sick days.
Many of our members were surprised to learn that 40 percent of private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers in Portland don’t have earned sick days on the job. Others knew first hand just how difficult not having sick days can be.
“Nina”* is a single parent of a toddler son and works full time as a childcare provider. She’s responsible for a classroom of 10 two-year olds and does not earn sick days. When she gets sick – and in her line of work, she is often exposed to illness – or her son falls ill, she has limited options: She can keep her son in her classroom where she can’t care for him properly, or leave work without pay.
Others in the service industry, where 74 percent of folks do not get earned sick time, have told us about their struggles. Ariel, a waiter at a local Portland spot recently injured her foot and was unable to work. “If I had been able to know that I could use sick days and there would be no repercussions, it would be so much easier to heal,” she said, “I have to wonder, am I going to get fired? Now I have a $100 doctor’s note and no money coming in.”
This story has become all too common among our members, which is why we are taking the thousands of letters down to city hall to demand that Portland workers are treated fairly and share the stories of those who need to be able to take time off when they or their child or family member are ill.
Earned sick days are good for the community, good for business, and good for working families. Everybody gets sick, everybody deserves time to heal.
A couple of weeks ago, over 350 people packed the house at the Helium Comedy Club in Portland, Oregon. Comedians from Laughing Liberally – Lee Camp, Negin Farsad, and Katie Halper- joined local Portland comedians Gilbert Brown and Kyle Harbert for the event. They poked fun at work, politics, and, of course, our political leaders.
After the laughter, the comedians led two workshops and multiple events around town. Using a combination of social media and humor, the comedians helped to bridge the gap between the sometimes dry and confusing world of politics and our every day lives – while using the power of laughter to help break it down and keep it interesting. Using the #OhUnionsDidThat hashtag on Twitter, we got a chance to spread the word about many of the things we take for granted today that were hard fought for by the labor movement. (The eight hour work day? Child labor laws? The weekend? Oh, Unions Did That!)
Afterwards, the comedians, along with our very own Working America team, took to the streets for two nights to hand out thank you cards to the Portland Jazz Festival workers. We had lots of wonderful conversations with all of the people who make the festival happen: stagehands, baristas, sound technicians and bartenders. We got a chance to thank them for their hard work and were able to connect the dots between all of the different kinds of jobs which made the event possible – and make a few jokes along the way, too.