What Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg Overlooked…and Gawker Writers Get Right

This article was originally posted on Medium.

Earlier this month, the CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, announced the company would no longer allow employees to negotiate their salaries. Pao explained the move was an attempt to close the pay gap between women and men since, based on her experience, women are worse negotiators than men and as she put it, “From what I’ve heard from women, they…feel like there’s no way to win.”

Pao’s claim that some women lose out at the negotiating table is correct. And her instinct to take action and use her power as CEO to level the playing field is admirable. But her response misses the point of what’s really happening for women at work.

Women don’t need less negotiating power. They need more. And no one woman — CEO or front-line worker — can solve this problem alone.

Many hardworking women lose out on wages not because they are ineffective negotiators. Rather, they, along with their male colleagues, lack the power to come together to raise wages collectively.

As secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and a woman who has dealt with her share of office politics, I understand the challenges that both Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg describe on the job. But I have a very different solution.

I got my start in the labor movement working with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union on an organizing campaign of clerical workers at Portland General Electric (PGE) in my home state of Oregon shortly after I graduated from college. While the power linemen at PGE were all union members, the clerical workers— mainly women — were not.

It became apparent that the linemen received good pay and benefits, thanks to their union contract; but the clerical workers did not have that collective power and lacked leverage to negotiate better pay and conditions in the workplace that they deserved. It wasn’t a big leap for the clerical workers to realize they too could raise their wages and secure benefits through a union contract like their linemen peers.

The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave among other benefits.

And in direct response to Ellen Pao’s concern about the wage gap, union negotiated contracts narrow the pay gap between men and women significantly. In fact, a typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion working woman. Most industries that are predominantly female like fast food and home health care pay low wages that often don’t even cover the basic necessities of life. These low wages act to keep women’s salaries down in every industry, not just in low-wage work.

The tech economy has changed a lot of things — from bitcoin to social media. But, unfortunately, some things have stayed the same. It’s hard to erase sex discrimination with a simple rule change and even harder to improve working conditions when employees aren’t allowed to sit across the table from their boss and negotiate.

But there’s a tried and true remedy to these problems. Why shouldn’t the women of Silicon Valley join a union if they want to close the gender pay gap?

And why shouldn’t they sit with their male colleagues and raise wages for workers across the board? Or negotiate workplace policies that ensure mothers and fathers are able to succeed at work and take care of their families?

Many high-tech workers already have said yes to a collective voice: From NASA engineers to professional, technical and other highly skilled workers at Boeing and computer scientists and technicians at AT&T. Tech workers have enjoyed the benefits of union membership for decades. Currently, groups of Silicon Valley workers such as shuttle drivers are trying to organize to gain a stronger voice on the job.

Even professionals at online blogs like Gawker are unionizing for a voice at work. If workers in new media can do it, anyone can. If people continue to re-imagine what a union can look like in their workplace and adapt the value of collective action to meet modern challenges — perhaps Reddit, too, can think about narrowing the pay gap by helping women and men negotiate better pay and a fair workplace through a union.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Worker Wins Update: April Showers Bring Big Wins for Workers

Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Harvard Hotel Workers Make Smart Choice to Organize: Following a two year campaign, workers at the Soldiers Field Road DoubleTree Hotel, located in a building owned by Harvard, voted to organize with UNITE HERE Local 26. The workers will join Harvard dining hall workers as well as Boston-area hotel staff in the local union.

Next Stop for Double Decker Bus Tour Guides: A Union: Workers at a double-decker bus tour company in New York City have voted to join Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100, fighting back against poor working conditions and pay cuts. Local 100 currently represents some 40,000 transit workers throughout New York City.

Casino Workers Go ‘All-In’ on Union: The cards at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino will be dealt by union members after workers voted to join the National Gaming Workers Coalition, which includes UNITE HERE, UAW and Operating Engineers (IUOE).

Toady’s Lesson at Detroit Charter Schools: Forming a Union: Teachers from three Detroit charter schools have come together to file petitions to be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, a local union affiliated with the AFT.

Gawker Writers Submit Stories and Union Cards: Workers at Gawker Media announced that they will be forming a union with the Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO in New York City. Gawker writers cited need for a fair salary and stated clearly that “every workplace could use a union.”

Alaska Nurses Find the Right Prescription, Affiliate with AFT: In a move to strengthen the voices of nurses in Alaska, the Alaska Nurses Association Labor Program agreed to affiliate with AFT Nurses and Health Professionals. With this affiliation, AFT now represents 113,000 health care professionals across the country.

Rutgers Faculty Win Big in Classroom and at Bargaining Table: Nearly 4,700 full-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants signed a new contract protecting members from salary freezes, health care rate hikes and promising a raise in wages throughout the life of the contract. The contract, fought for by members of the American Association of University Professors–AFT, also will provide protections for about 7,000 graduate teaching assistants.

Howard University Physicians On-Call for Better Pay, Benefits: Resident physicians at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., have asked hospital officials to negotiate a new contract with their newly formed union after the National Labor Relations Board upheld the results of its January election last week.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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When Walmart Cut Insurance for 30,000 Workers, This Is How We Responded

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Last October, Walmart cut health insurance for about 30,000 part time workers. Starting January 1, 2015, only part-time associates who work 30 to 34 a week qualify for coverage.

This recent move from the country’s largest private employer is the latest in a series of steps to pare down health care costs, often at the expense of local taxpayers. It wasn’t long ago that Walmart offered health coverage for all part-time workers. But in 2011, Walmart cut coverage for new employees who worked fewer than 24 hours. In 2012, they went even further, dropping insurance for those who worked fewer than 30 hours a week. Now, those workers who were grandfathered into the health plan have been dropped.

Keep in mind: despite recent improvements, individual Walmart associates have very little control over their schedules, and managers are able to cut costs by keeping workers’ hours under the 30-hour threshold. And for those associates who actually qualify, the company’s health care plan is fraught with problems.

Luckily, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it’s now easier for individuals to purchase health coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace. To help everyday workers, OUR Walmart and Working America Health Care have teamed up to offer Walmart associates an even better deal.

OUR Walmart members who enroll in a qualified health plan through Working America Health Care will have access to special member benefits: dental and vision discounts, as well as a personal Health Advocate to answer questions and help workers deal with insurance companies.

This past November, many of us stood up for Walmart associates on Black Friday. More than 11,000 Working America members signed petitions calling for $15 an hour and access to full-time hours for all Walmart workers. We made calls, shared information with friends, and joined in solidarity with Walmart associates at stores across the country.

But making change at Walmart and in the lives of its workers is about more than just one day: and that’s why we’re incredibly proud of this collaboration to help provide answers, stability, and a measure of security for Walmart workers and their families.

Are you a Walmart worker? Do you know someone who is? Click here to learn more about the available health care benefits or call 888-693-0159 for more information.

Whether or not you work at Walmart, you can have access to special benefits by enrolling in health coverage through Working America Health Care by February 15. Click here to learn more or call 855-698-2479.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America and Union Plus with the mission of informing folks about the Affordable Care Act and connecting them with quality health insurance coverage.

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Tell the Montgomery County Council to Pass a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights

Tell the Montgomery County Council to Pass a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights

Taxi drivers in Montgomery County, Md., work long hours and make barely above the minimum wage because the companies they work for charge them tens of thousands of dollars in fees each month. Fed up with this situation, these workers have proposed a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights that would make sure drivers are paid a living wage, that they have basic workplace protections and are able to give their customers the best service possible. And they are working to get the County Council to pass the bill, which also would update the outdated dispatch system to improve service and convenience for riders and regulate companies like Uber.

In August, members of Montgomery County Professional Drivers Union (MCPDU) voted to affiliate with National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA). Taxi drivers in Montgomery County are labeled as independent contractors. Because of their independent status, the more than 800 licensed taxi drivers in Montgomery County are not protected by any wage and hour laws or workers’ compensation laws and have no health insurance, disability insurance or any form of retirement benefits.

MCPDU President Peter Ibik explains the need for the bill:

I’ve been a taxi driver for more than 16 years, and I work in Montgomery County, Md. I love my job, but it’s getting harder and harder to support my family by doing it.

In Montgomery County, like in a lot of other places across the country, taxi drivers have to pay a lot of excessive fees that the companies we work for, like Barwood Taxi, impose on us. These fees can be nearly $35,000, which means, by the time we get our paycheck, many of us barely make minimum wage even after working 16-hour days. But it doesn’t have to be that way….

The Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights is the right thing to do for everyone in Montgomery County. For drivers, many who work and live in the county, it would rein in the out of control fees we need to pay in order to do our job. It also would make sure we had protections against company managers who can now fire us without cause; and it would give us a voice, as workers, to hold companies accountable.

But it’s not only good for drivers like me. It would be good for riders like you, too. High fees have meant customers get saddled with higher costs, but this bill would stop that from happening. It also would ensure that every driver in Montgomery County was experienced and professional and that companies like Uber were regulated and played by the same rules as other taxi and limo services….

It’s a win-win for everyone. We just need to make sure that council members recognize that, too, and don’t give in to taxi company CEOs and lobbyists who are just looking to make as much money as they can off the backs of drivers.

Send a message to the members of the Montgomery County Council now.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Drama Behind Reality TV Cameras Puts Producers on the Line

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This is a cross-post from the Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council’s Union City.

Inhumanly long hours, cruelty, frayed nerves. And that’s just behind the cameras at reality shows. “It’s scary and nerve-wracking,” says Sevita Qarshi, a producer walking the line Thursday outside the Realscreen conference at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Qarshi has worked on a number of reality TV shows and says that the working conditions for the men and women producing the popular programs are just as dramatic as those in front of the cameras.

It’s just awful. Incredibly long hours, many of them unpaid, no sick days, no health insurance, no job security and constant stress.

The target of Thursday’s picket lines, organized by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), is ITV Studios, a U.K.-owned television production company. The WGAE has successfully organized six major production companies and is fighting to win a contract with ITV, one of the conference sponsors, which is refusing to sign a deal with the WGAE even though the employees voted to organize four years ago.

The action was part of the industry-wide campaign to organize some 2,000 writers and producers of reality and nonfiction TV programming in New York City. Said WGAE Director of Organizing Justin Molito, as picketers chanted nearby:

Reality and nonfiction TV employees are victims of rampant wage theft and, in many cases, receive no health benefits at all. Unfortunately, this sort of freelance precarious labor is spreading into more and more industries.

“We get to work with a lot of great people,” said Qarshi, “but ITV wants more for less, and everybody’s overworked and stressed out.” Winning a union “would mean we have rights.” She added:

It would stop the intimidation, and help us feel appreciated for our hard work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

Five Causes of Wage Stagnation in the United States

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Delta Flight Attendants File Flight Plan for IAM Representation

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Nearly 12,000 Delta Air Lines flight attendants have signed authorization cards seeking union representation by the Machinists (IAM). More than two dozen Delta flight attendants hand-delivered those cards Tuesday to the National Mediation Board’s (NMB’s) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Once the NMB validates those signatures—expected in about four to six weeks—the agency will set an election date for the airline’s 20,000 flight attendants.

Delta Air Lines flight attendant Gabe Perez, who has been with the airline for 35 years, said:

We are the reason Delta is the world’s most profitable carrier and leads the industry in almost every financial and operational measure. Yet, we lag the industry in wages, benefits and work rules. That will change once we win our election and negotiate the industry-best contract we deserve.

IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger, who accompanied the flight attendants to the NMB, called it “an historic day for these courageous flight attendants.”

IAM General Vice President Sito Pantoja called the flight attendants:

an inspiration to the entire labor movement. The IAM will make every effort to ensure that they achieve their goal of negotiating an industry-leading contract.

For more information, visit www.iamdelta.net.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) supports the Delta flight attendants campaign to win a voice with the IAM and says a victory would lift standards for all flight attendants. AFA-CWA and Delta flight attendants were unsuccessful in a previous election that was held under different NMB rules.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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San Francisco Taxi Workers Vote to Unionize

Photo by Lynn Friedman/Flckr Creative Commons

San Francisco taxi drivers last week voted to form the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance (SFTWA) and affiliate with the National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA). They are the second group of taxi workers in recent weeks to join with NTWA following the Montgomery County (Md.) Professional Drivers Union’s affiliation.

Beth Powder, a driver for DeSoto Cab. Co., told the San Francisco Examiner:

Cabdrivers are very independent people, and that’s one of the beauties of this industry—that you have a diverse group of people who bring all these different elements to the table. Unfortunately, what it translates to for everybody else is that we can’t get together and find consensus. But we’ve done just that.

NTWA President Bhairavi Desai said:

San Francisco used to have progressive working conditions, in that every driver could earn a medallion and it was a very progressive model. But in the last 10 years, San Francisco has been faced with very bitter attacks, with [rideshares] being the latest of the attacks.

The 150 drivers who voted unanimously to form the SFTWA also pledged to mobilize to bring more drivers into the union.

San Francisco taxi workers were unionized before World War II, but by the late 1970s unions had faded. Mark Gruberg, 72, a taxi driver for 30 years who is still driving, told the Examiner:

There’s a new breath of life in unionism. And we in San Francisco are going to be part and parcel of that.

In a post on NTWA’s Facebook page about the San Francisco action, Javaid Tariq comments, “Taxi drivers are united all over the USA.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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