When President Barack Obama first announced his candidacy for president, he said: “I am running in this race because of what Dr. Martin Luther King called ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.” Like Dr. King, our president was calling on America to make real the promises of our democracy.
That fierce urgency of now is here for thousands of refugee children from Central America. I know many of these kids’ stories because it is my story too.
In 1982, after too many friends and family had been jailed, tortured or killed by a brutal military government, my family knew my best chance of surviving into adulthood was to flee my home in Ethiopia. I did not want to leave. My parents did not want me to leave. We knew I would be risking my life to journey to Sudan to seek asylum. We also all knew I was likely to lose my life if I remained at home.
I was barely 13 years old when I, along with four of my childhood friends, set out on a brutal journey across the desert to Sudan. We used money we had earned doing odd jobs, sold any valuables we had and collected donations from family and friends to hire a peasant to help us reach Sudan. We were quickly robbed and abandoned by the peasant we hired. We then roamed hundreds of miles, lost. We grew ill and hungry, and we were exploited by farmers who offered us work along the way.
When we finally arrived at Sudan’s border, I weighed only 67 pounds — at 5 feet 10 inches. Although I would eventually recover, I never grew any taller than I was when I arrived in Sudan.
Upon arriving in Sudan, I was sick and starving and still had to adapt to a different language and culture. I got help from the Sudanese government and international nongovernmental organizations.
I had to go through many screenings and tests to prove my life was in danger and to get refugee status. Though I was relieved to be safe and I did get to the United States, all I really wanted was my family and my home. After I left Ethiopia, I never saw my father again. I never got to go through our house and collect photos or attend his funeral and honor his life. I could only imagine what he would tell me as I strove to become the kind of man I think he would have wanted me to be.
When my older brother, whom I admired and adored, was killed, I didn’t find out about it or know where he was buried for many years. I didn’t get to be with my nephew when he was born, and I didn’t know the whereabouts of my mother for nearly a decade.
But because I received asylum, I now get to live my version of the American dream. Because my friends and I received due process, we got a chance to escape the violence, political upheaval, environmental crisis and famine.
Like many new immigrants, I worked hard in high school, college and graduate school to better myself. I was the first person of color to head the California Young Democrats. One of my happiest moments was being accepted as a working-class American, when I landed my first union job as a Teamster at UPS. And now, as the first African-American man elected as an officer of the national AFL-CIO, I work for more than 12 million working Americans.
As a former child refugee, I cannot comprehend our government turning away children from any country arriving at our border without giving them basic due process.
As Americans, we must respond with speed and flexibility to address the individual problems presented by Central American children. There must be clear guidelines for screening arrivals and processing resettlement claims for at-risk refugees.
Every day when I look in the mirror, I see the faces of my childhood friends who didn’t live to adulthood. And I see the faces of Central American children pressed against bus windows as they are greeted with tomatoes, rocks and profanity.
If, in 1982, instead of being taken to a refugee camp where I was given due process by Sudan and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, I had been turned around at the border and sent back to Ethiopia, I would not be alive to write this today.
Many Central American refugees arriving at our border need urgent resettlement action, just as I did when I left my home country. Their cases need to be addressed. They must not be casually turned back or left in detention centers to languish. I know because I’ve been in their shoes.
Tefere Gebre is executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.
Reposted from the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Tags: aflcio, African-American, immigration, organizing, teamsters
Working people scored major victories over the past several months, organizing new workplaces and winning fights to raise wages.
Here are some highlights of recent working families victories:
Texas Machinists Win Back-to-Back Organizing Drives: Union growth continues in Texas as members from the Machinists (IAM) successfully organized their second consecutive workplace in Texas this month, adding nearly 1,000 new members.
Point Park University Faculty Organize Hundreds to Gain Benefits: More than 300 part-time faculty members at Point Park University in Pittsburgh are on the road to a union voice after voting to certify with Adjunct Faculty Association-United Steelworkers (AFA-USW).
Missouri EMS Workers Win Organizing Fight: An overwhelming majority of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals in Independence, Missouri, voted to join EMS Workers United-AFSCME, strengthening the local union and providing essential protections for Missouri workers.
RAISING WAGES VICTORIES
Massachusetts Workers Help Push Minimum Wage Hike: Working people in Massachusetts scored a big win as Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017.
Newark, N.J., Paid Sick-Leave Ordinance Goes Into Effect: A new paid sick-leave law in Newark, N.J., will allow full and part-time employees to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick-leave per year. Similar paid sick-leave laws have passed in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.
Momentum Builds for Minimum Wage Hike in Nebraska: Workers in Nebraska put a measure on the 2014 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $9 and hour by 2016.
California Workers Benefit from Minimum Wage Increase: An increase in California’s minimum wage to $9 an hour has taken effect, with the wage set to increase again in 2016 to $10 an hour. Meanwhile, efforts continue in Los Angeles to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour.
Philadelphia Building Trades Go to Work with New Housing Deal: A deal between Philadelphia building-trades unions and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will put people to work in union jobs while creating new affordable housing for Pennsylvanians.
Letter Carriers Complete Successful Food Drive: Members of the Letter Carriers (NALC) completed their annual food drive, collecting more than 72 million pounds of food for families in need.
Union Volunteers Help Aspiring Americans Earn Citizenship: On June 28, at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., volunteers helped nearly 100 people through the U.S. citizenship process, enabling them to file paperwork with the help of legal and immigration experts.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: AFA-USW, aflcio, California, IAM, immigration, Massachusetts, minimum wage, Missouri, NALC, nebraska, New Jersey, newark, organizing, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Rights At Work, Texas
Part-time professors at Pittsburgh’s Point Park University have voted to join the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers (AFA-USW). The votes were counted this morning by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The educators filed a petition with the NLRB in April and a mail ballot election was held for the 314 eligible instructors. The Point Park faculty are the second group of adjuncts to vote to join AFA-USW, after Duquesne University faculty voted for the union in the spring of 2012. The Point Park instructors cited similar issues as the Duquesne faculty, including stagnating wages, lack of benefits, little job security and inadequate office space and other tools to provide students with quality education.
USW President Leo W. Gerard called upon the college to engage the adjuncts fairly:
The adjunct instructors have spoken very clearly with this vote. Now it’s time for the Point Park administration to work with them to craft a fair collective bargaining agreement that provides the faculty with the benefits and basic protections that all workers deserve.
Sharon Brady, who has taught theater arts at Point Park for more than a decade, echoed Gerard:
I am looking forward to working with the administration, with the support of the USW, to enhance both the adjuncts’ experience and their effectiveness for the students they serve.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, Education, Leo Gerard, NLRB, organizing, Rights At Work, USW
Exciting things are happening in Texas. The Machinists (IAM) today announced a second important organizing victory, this time for 475 office and clerical personnel employed by L3 at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) in Corpus Christi. This follows an April organizing win for 450 helicopter mechanics and technicians at the same facility.
The workers will join IAM Local 2916, which already has more than 500 members under six contracts at the adjoining Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, as well as the new members from April’s election.
“Our organizers were able to overcome the anti-union bias that is promoted in some southern states by providing concrete examples of what IAM contracts have already been secured for similar workers throughout the South,” said IAM Southern Territory Vice President Mark Blondin. “The IAM also has a history in the South that goes back 126 years, with well-established bargaining relationships in shipbuilding, defense and aerospace.”
Blondin credited the union’s months-long education campaign that preceded the vote for ensuring workers at L3 knew their legal rights and understood the benefits of working under a collective bargaining agreement.
“The office workers mirrored the mechanics in needing better wages and benefits,” said IAM Southern Territory Grand Lodge Representative Ramon Garcia, who helped coordinate the organizing effort with assistance from District Lodge 776 and district organizers Chub McCrory and Sylvia Zavala.
“This was a big team effort, with staff and volunteers involved from across our territory. It’s exciting to see workers’ views change about the need for a union,” said Blondin. “Across the South, we’re hearing from workers about the need for the voice on the job and better wages. We expect these latest wins to lead to increased organizing opportunities for the IAM.”
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, Corpus Christi, IAM, organizing, Rights At Work, Texas
The Arena Football League Players Union will join the AFL-CIO after its Board of Player Representatives voted unanimously to affiliate with the 56 unions and 12.5 million members of the labor federation. The AFLPU, which began operations in 1987, now has 14 teams and is looking to expand into China. The union represents some 350 players, more than 90% of the league’s players.
Ivan F. Soto, executive director of the players’ union, explained the move:
It was just a natural fit for us. With the rapid growth of the league we’re starting to see, we felt it was good to align ourselves with an organization that can help us domestically and internationally….We’re happy to have the backbone of the AFL-CIO behind us. That’s what solidarity is about—trying to grow the pie for everybody, especially the players, the labor.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka welcomed the players:
The labor movement is stronger when all workers—from nurses in California to teachers in New York or arena football players across the country—speak with a collective voice. We are excited to welcome the AFLPU into America’s labor movement and look forward to working together to improve the lives of all working people.
Soto added that arena football is a dangerous sport and that the players “don’t earn the kind of compensation that NFL players do.” Joining the AFL-CIO, he said, was a way to make sure that games are played with properly trained union players with sufficient protections. “You can’t just throw 20 guys out there in an arena that don’t have a lot of experience. Someone could get killed.”
He noted that the resources of the AFL-CIO would be valuable to the players:
This partnership will help grow the AFLPU and level the playing field for players as our league continues to grow. The AFL-CIO’s resources will provide our athletes with training, education and many other benefits that will help us achieve our goal: a workplace that treats athletes fairly and puts player safety first.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, football, organizing, Rights At Work
With more than a dozen local carwashes now unionized, Los Angeles workers are leading the way for union carwashes. The 133 new unionized carwasheros are represented by the United Steelworkers Local 675. The carwash owners where these employees work also have agreed by contract to comply with all labor, health and safety regulations and give their workers a 2% raise. Workers are now able to enforce these working standards by themselves through a grievance procedure.
The California Labor Federation explains why this is such an important step forward:
Unfortunately, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws leading to unsafe and unhealthy workplaces for workers and the communities they serve. In March 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported the results of an investigation of the carwash industry, finding that many owners pay less than half of the required minimum wage, and that two-thirds of those inspected by the state’s labor department since 2003 were out of compliance with one or more labor laws. Although some violations were minor, others were fundamental: underpaying workers, hiring minors, operating without workers’ compensation insurance, and denying workers meal and rest breaks.
Carwash workers in Los Angeles are overwhelmingly Latino immigrants and their work is very labor intensive. On a typical weekday, a carwash may service up to 500 cars. The workers must work at a fast pace for long periods of time, often drenched in water and exposed to high summer temperatures. In order to wash and clean such a high number of vehicles, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws, such as those requiring rest breaks or providing shade and clean drinking water.
See the map below for the new unionized carwashes:
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, California, carwasheros, Los Angeles, organizing, Rights At Work
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez will be in London, England, on Wednesday to urge British American Tobacco (BAT) to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade the company to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers.
You can add your voice to the chorus of those urging BAT to take responsibility for ensuring the rights of workers in its supply chain. Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to BAT CEO Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.
A 2011 report by Oxfam America and FLOC, A State of Fear: Human Rights Abuses in North Carolina’s Tobacco Industry, showed that many farm workers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below poverty wages.
At the annual BAT stockholders meeting Velasquez, along with a number of union allies, including the AFL-CIO, will challenge British American Tobacco on its labor practices in the supply chain and the need to implement concrete measures to ensure that farm workers can exercise their fundamental rights in accordance with international labor standards.
The living and working conditions on tobacco farms are often deplorable. Reynolds American claims that it ensures acceptable conditions on its supplier farms, but Velasquez said that independent worker representation is the only way to sustain real improvements and full respect for workers’ rights.
FLOC has a serious proposal to address rights and conditions on tobacco farms and he said BAT should play its role in making sure Reynolds and other tobacco companies engage with us about the workers’ concerns.
Photo by Farm Labor Organizing Committee on Facebook
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, farmworkers, FLOC, organizing, Rights At Work
From the classroom to the basketball court, the University of Connecticut community is widely embracing the concept of collective action. The school that set the standard for basketball excellence this year by winning both the men’s and the women’s national championships is making news as the college’s students are stepping up and acting collectively to improve their lives.”
Graduate employees at the university won a victory last week as the state Board of Labor Relations verified that more than half of the graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants had signed cards authorizing the Graduate Employee Union (UAW) to represent them. UConn is the first school in the state where grad assistants have successfully unionized and, with more than 2,100 assistants, the unit becomes the largest at the college, outpacing the 1,700 members of the faculty union and 1,600 members of the staff union. The graduate employees say that the college has stayed neutral in the process and didn’t oppose the union as other colleges have. Among the top concerns the new union members plan to address with college officials are the recent increases in health insurance co-payments and student fees.
Madelynn von Baeyer, a member of the organizing committee, says: “I think it’s wonderful that UConn came out and recognized our right to collectively bargain. Being recognized, we’re hopeful to enter a new mature relationship with the university that will improve not only (the) experience as a graduate employee, but will benefit the university by bringing in top-quality graduate employees for future years.”
The UConn graduate assistants are the latest group to win a union voice. More than 1.200 NYU graduate employees voted to join the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) and Scientists and Engineers Together/UAW (SET/UAW) in December and grad assistants on several other campuses seeking union representation.
In related news at UConn, basketball player Shabazz Napier made headlines after his team won the championship last month when he told reporters that because of NCAA limitations on what players can do, he often goes to bed hungry at night. While the rule had been in the works prior to Napier’s comments, the college athletics governing body approved changes that will allow student athletes to have unlimited meals and snacks. The rule should clear up a muddled environment where a school like Oklahoma, rather than run afoul of the NCAA, self-reported that three players ate too much pasta at a graduation banquet and were required to each donate $3.83 to charity to make sure they weren’t accused of taking illegal gifts. The new rule should prevent future such misunderstandings and guarantee that student athletes have enough food to eat.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: connecticut, grad students, NCAA, organizing, Rights At Work, uaw
The more than 2,600 pilots at JetBlue Airways have voted overwhelmingly to join the Air Line Pilots (ALPA), the National Mediation Board announced today.
Captains Gustavo Rivera and Rocky Durham, co-chairs of the JetBlue Organizing Committee, said:
Today, JetBlue pilots have voted for ALPA representation so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers. As committed as we are to our objectives, we also want to work with management to ensure we continue to contribute positively to JetBlue’s success. We believe in JetBlue and look forward to helping make this company one of the best.
Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA, said the win shows the strong desire of JetBlue pilots to secure a meaningful voice in their future, the certainty of a collective bargaining agreement and the resources needed to be relevant.
ALPA welcomes the JetBlue pilots. [ALPA] is ready to work with JetBlue pilots achieve their goals. They make our union stronger by adding their unified voices to [ALPA's] strong bargaining and advocacy efforts.
Of the 96% of pilots eligible to vote, 71% voted for ALPA.
Watch a video statement from Capt. Moak.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, airports, ALPA, organizing, pilots, Rights At Work
At the end of March, the Roosevelt Institute launched a new project, the Future of Work, which takes a look at the changing landscape in the area of workers’ rights and representation in the political and economic system that affects their lives. Author Richard Kirsch does a great job of explaining the economy and discussing potential policy solutions in a report titled The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Secure Prosperity for All.
The Future of Work is bringing together thought and action leaders from multiple fields to re-imagine a 21st century social contract that expands workers’ rights and increases the number of living wage jobs. The Future of Work is focusing on three areas: Promoting new and innovative strategies for worker organizing and representation; raising the floor of labor market standards and strengthening enforcement of labor laws and standards; and assuring access to good jobs for women and workers of color.
In the report, Kirsch breaks down the issues and solutions into several categories. Read more about each:
1. The New Deal Launched Unions as Key to Building Middle Class
2. The Challenges to Organizing Workers in Today’s Economy
3. National Labor Law in the United States: Scanty Protections for Organizing Leave Out Many Workers
4. How the Weakening of American Labor Led to the Shrinking of America’s Middle Class
5. Labor Law That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy
6. Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making
You also can read Kirsch’s full report, which goes into more detail on each of these points.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, Jobs, labor law, organizing, Rights At Work, unions