Trumka: Obama ‘Forcefully Advocated for Working Families’ in State of Union

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “President Obama eloquently and forcefully advocated for working families throughout his State of the Union Address,” last night. He also said:

The  president’s focus on raising wages through collective bargaining, better paying jobs, a fairer tax code, fair overtime rules, and expanded access to education and earned leave sent the right message at the right time.

Read the rest of the statement below:

So did his embrace of union apprentices and immigrants who want to achieve the American Dream. The president has again demonstrated his strong commitment to creating an economy that truly works for all working people.

Fighting income inequality is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As Oxfam recently reminded us, the world’s wealth continues to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. If we are serious about solving this monumental challenge, the size of the solutions must meet the scale of the problem. We must have a similarly vigorous response to the barriers to raising wages: our opposition to fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations must be resolute. We can’t face the competitive challenge of China with a trade deal that fails to adequately address currency manipulation, climate change or that gives corporations rights that people don’t have.

Now is the time for politicians to champion a Raising Wages agenda that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. America has now heard what the president thinks about this agenda. We thank the president for his passion and his advocacy. We are ready to see what he and Congress will do about it. That is the ultimate standard of accountability.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Van Hollen Offers Battle Plan to Combat Income Inequality

Van Hollen Offers Battle Plan to Combat Income Inequality

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) unveiled a new plan today to address the large and growing problem of income inequality that he says, “attacks the chronic problem of stagnant middle-class incomes from both directions: it promotes bigger paychecks and lets workers keep more of what they earn.”

His plan would create or expand tax breaks for child care, apprenticeship programs, middle-class working couples, those who save for retirement and companies that raise workers’ wages, while at the same time scaling back the tax break corporations currently claim for CEO bonuses. Van Hollen said his proposals are fully paid for with a “high-rollers fee” on Wall Street.

We can pay for these new tax benefits for working Americans by changing the ways our current tax code is rigged in favor of those who make money off of money and against those who make money from work.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Van Hollen for “showing the kind of leadership that has become far too rare in Washington, D.C., today. Many of the policy prescriptions he outlined today are part of the blueprint to seriously addressing income inequality.” He also said:

A modest Wall Street speculation tax, or ‘high-roller fee’ as Rep. Van Hollen has proposed, will help curb harmful Wall Street practices and raise billions of dollars annually. These are critical funds that could pay for infrastructure and education to lay the foundation for long-term productivity growth. Additionally, Rep. Van Hollen is absolutely right to deny tax breaks for ridiculous, out of control CEO pay—they don’t need any more handouts.

Read more about the Van Hollen plan from Alice Ollstein at Think Progress.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO to Take Raising Wages Campaign to States and Cities

At the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Raising Wages last week, President Richard Trumka announced two important new parts of the labor federation’s agenda.  This spring, the federation will sponsor Raising Wages summits in four key states. Additionally, the AFL-CIO will organize projects in seven cities to focus on raising wages in those locales.

Trumka explained the reason for the stepped-up efforts:

American workers are beginning to say “enough.” We are beginning to rise up, to come together, to reject the idea that there is nothing we can do about falling wages. We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple—raise the wages of the 90% of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997.  Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality—they need more income.

AFL-CIO’s state labor federations in the first four presidential primary states—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina will take place in the spring. These summits will bring together diverse voices to lay out the entire raising wages platform and establish state-based standards of accountability. Trumka talked about the significance of those states: “Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged. That means accountability, and it starts with something we all understand—presidential politics.”

After working with affiliates and community partners, the AFL-CIO identified the 10 cities for raising wages campaigns where they could have the most significant impact. The cities include Atlanta, Columbus, District of Columbia (Metro), St. Louis, Philadelphia, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Houston, Miami, Dallas and San Diego. In each city, the labor movement will stand together with those already at work and bring important energy, ideas and resources to critical battles.

These new campaigns are the beginning of the federation’s efforts to expand the raising wages agenda.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Overtime Pay Rule Needs ‘Bold’ Action, says Trumka

President Barack Obama needs to “go bold” with the upcoming revision of overtime pay rules expected shortly from the Department of Labor, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. In the video above, he says:

Raising wages is the issue of our time. And President Obama has a tremendous chance to raise the wages of millions of Americans out there. We’re urging him to go bold and to not dilute the overtime regulation that’s about to come out.

In March, Obama directed the Labor Department to update overtime eligibility rules to restore the overtime protection workers have lost to inflation since 1975.

Under federal overtime regulations, workers who earn less than a certain salary level are generally entitled to overtime protection. For decades after enactment of the federal overtime law in 1938, this salary threshold was updated every few years as a routine matter. However, the last regular adjustment to the salary level was made by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975, and workers’ overtime protections have been steadily eroded by inflation.

The current federal threshold is $455 per week—or $23,660 per year—and to simply make up for inflation, Trumka said it should be raised to $51,168. He told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:

The spotlight is now on raising wages. Raising wages is the key unifying progressive value that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. We think the president has a great opportunity to show that he is behind that agenda by increasing the overtime regulations to a minimum threshold of $51,168. That’s the marker.

As Trumka said the $51,168 is the least the administration should do. Some members of Congress have called for a $54,000 threshold, and in a recent Politico column Seattle entrepreneur and billionaire Nick Hanauer wrote the threshold should be set at $69,000.

Business groups are adamantly opposed to raising workers’ wages with a new overtime pay rule and have lobbied the White House against raising the threshold. There has been speculation the Obama administration may settle on a lower adjustment that falls far short of what’s needed to make up for 30 years of inflation.

Trumka told Sargent that business groups will oppose the move no matter where Obama sets the threshold.

Why would you settle for a figure that excludes millions of people when they’re not going to support that, either? The president should go full throttle on restoring the 40-hour workweek and not dilute this opportunity for raising wages.

More than 6.1 million workers would become eligible for overtime pay if the threshold was raised to $51,168. But 2.6 million would still be left out of overtime protection if the figure was set at the $42,000, which some suspect the Labor Department is eyeing. Click here for an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) chart showing how many workers would get a raise under various proposed thresholds.

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

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: President’s Immigration Executive Action ‘Moves Us Forward’

Photo courtesy Victoria Pickering on Flickr

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement in response to President Barack Obama’s announced executive action on immigration reform:

Today is an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law. On behalf of America’s workers, we applaud the Administration’s willingness to act.  We have been calling upon the White House to halt unnecessary deportations since Spring 2013 because our broken immigration system is an invitation for employer manipulation and abuse, and U.S.-born workers as well as immigrant workers are paying the price.

By extending relief and work authorization to an estimated 4 million people, the Obama Administration will help prevent unscrupulous employers from using unprotected workers to drive down wages and conditions for all workers in our country.  Although this fix will be temporary, it will allow millions of people to live and work without fear, and afford them the status to assert their rights on the job.

The Administration is operating within its authority to advance the moral and economic interests of our country, and while we stand ready to defend this program, we must also be clear that it is only a first step.  Unfortunately, more than half of those who currently lack legal protections will remain vulnerable to wage theft, retaliation, and other forms of exploitation.

In addition, we are concerned by the President’s concession to corporate demands for even greater access to temporary visas that will allow the continued suppression of wages in the tech sector.  We will actively engage in the rulemaking process to ensure that new workers will be hired based on real labor market need and afforded full rights and protections.

But this announcement does move us forward – progress that is attributable to the courage and determination of immigrants who rallied, petitioned, fasted and blocked streets to make it happen.  Implementation of the executive action should begin immediately, before further delays open the door for legislative obstruction. Starting tomorrow, the administration should focus enforcement attention on high level targets, stop the community raids and leave workers, grandmothers, and schoolchildren in peace.

Going forward, we renew our call for comprehensive reform that provides a path to citizenship and real protections for workers.  We will continue to stand with all workers, regardless of status, to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected.  Working together, we know that we will ultimately achieve a more just immigration system that promotes shared prosperity and respects the dignity of all workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: Labor Prepared to Combat Assaults on Workers’ Rights

While conservative legislators across the country are gearing up to propose extreme legislation, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement that working families and the labor union are prepared to fight back and make sure that harmful and unpopular policies don’t pass. He said the labor federation would continue to focus on the agenda that working families want, one of raising wages and creating an economy that works for all Americans.

Trumka’s full statement:

In the wake of last Tuesday’s elections, many state and local politicians have already begun to signal their intent to wage assaults on working people in their states. While national political pundits debate outcomes, the AFL-CIO and its allies also have a keen eye on the developments at state and local levels.

We have no illusions there are radical politicians who are far more concerned with appeasing their corporate donors and being a tool for groups like ALEC than standing for working family issues. This is despite the fact that the Raising Wages agenda remain of utmost importance to most Americans. A majority of the electorate are struggling economically and 68 percent of voters agree that raising wages is good for workers and the economy. The majority of people want rights at work. We want the ability to stay home if we’re sick. We want fair and equal pay. And we believe if you work for and earn a pension, you should get it.

Make no mistake that the labor movement is more prepared and ready to combat these attacks than ever before.

We also know that this fight will not be the labor movement’s alone. We are fully engaged with our allies in the community and more importantly know that the values we stand for are in complete sync with the majority of Americans. It will take a collective effort to preserve and expand our values, and we are up to the task.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working Families to Join ‘Justice for All’ March in Ferguson

In September, when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke to the convention of the Missouri AFL-CIO, he addressed the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that led to the shooting of Michael Brown, saying that it was important for labor to be a part of the necessary conversation about race in the United States. Now the AFL-CIO, including the federation’s director of civil, human and women’s rights, Carmen Berkley, and Neidi Dominguez, assistant director of community engagement, will be in Missouri this weekend as part of the “Justice for All” events, including a national march and rally in St. Louis and Moral Monday-themed civil disobedience.

If you are going to be in the area for the national march on Saturday, please RSVP to be included as part of the working families contingent.

Learn more about all of the events, which begin today at the Ferguson October website.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka in Missouri: Racism Is Not Somebody Else’s Problem, It’s ‘Our Problem’

In a powerful speech given at the Missouri AFL-CIO Convention, national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took time to address the shooting of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and the issues of race and class the shooting reignited in the national conversation. Trumka emphasized that racism is still a significant issue that we face not only as a country, but as a labor movement. He noted that both Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, and Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, are union members.

Highlights of Trumka’s speech:

You see, the question of unity brings up a hard subject, a subject all of us know about but few want to acknowledge—race. I’m talking about race in America and what that means for our communities, our movement and our nation.

Because the reality is that while a young man named Michael Brown died just a short distance from us in Ferguson, from gunshot wounds from a police officer, other young men of color have died and will die in similar circumstances, in communities all across this country.

It happened here but it could have happened—and does happen—anywhere in America. Because the reality is we still have racism in America.

Now, some people might ask me why our labor movement should be involved in all that has happened since the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And I want to answer that question directly. How can we not be involved?

Union members’ lives have been profoundly damaged in ways that cannot be fixed. Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother who works in a grocery store, is our sister, an AFL-CIO union member, and Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, is a union member, too, and he is our brother. Our brother killed our sister’s son and we do not have to wait for the judgment of prosecutors or courts to tell us how terrible this is.

So I say again, how can we not be involved? This tragedy and all the complexities of race and racism are a big part of our very big family as they always have been. A union is like a home. And in any home, good and bad things happen. We have to deal with all of them, honestly.

But that’s a philosophy. We can’t leave it at that. We have to look at real life today. We cannot wash our hands of the issues raised by Michael Brown’s death. That does not mean we prejudge the specifics of Michael Brown’s death or deny Officer Darren Wilson—or any other officer—his or her rights on the job or in the courts.

But it does demand that we clearly and openly discuss the reality of racism in American life. We must take responsibility for the past. Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement….

I have a son. He’s not so young anymore but he’s not so old. I don’t worry about him. I don’t know, but I have a suspicion that like many of you, and certainly like me at that age, he may not always obey the nation’s traffic laws. So I worry he might wrap himself around a tree. But I never worry when he goes for a cross-country road trip or a night on the town that he may be stopped, shot to death by a police officer.

But for millions of mothers and fathers of young African American men and boys, men just like my son and boys who were as young as me and my friend Tommy—kids with promising futures in America, it is a constant fear, a constant fear.

And if you don’t feel that fear yourself, I’d just ask you, for a moment, to think about that. Think about what it would be like to watch your kid walk out the door and wonder, with good reason, if it’s the last time you’ll see him alive. Because you know it happens. If you haven’t had a close call yourself, you know people who have: friends, family, neighbors and people you worship with….

This is not somebody else’s problem. This is the reality of life for millions of our brothers and sisters. And so it is our problem. That is what solidarity means….

And think about what it means to be a police officer in this country where violence is so often the norm—about walking up to cars anticipating the worst, over and over again. None of us can really know the toll this takes unless we have worn the uniform. This reality, this experience, must be part of any conversation about how we move forward from what has happened here in Ferguson….

So we’ve got to talk to each other, not past each other. We’ve got to talk about how to help our police officers serve our communities. We’ve got to talk about registering and educating voters about jobs and housing and raising wages for all, and we’ve got to talk about accountability—about making sure the public has confidence that the laws of our nation will be enforced and enforced equally. And we have to do more than talk; we have to listen and then we have to act.

I’m not saying this is easy. If I knew how to fix the hurt in our communities, I would tell you. But I know how to start and that’s by listening….

Read the full speech.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Years After 9/11, Honor the Victims, Help Those Still Suffering

IAFF photo illustration

Today we mark the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11. As we honor the memories of the lives that were lost that day, we also should remember the thousands of people who are still suffering.

More than 100,000 rescue and recovery workers—including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, building and construction trades workers and transit workers—and hundreds of thousands of other workers and residents near Ground Zero were exposed to a toxic mix of dust and fumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Now more than 30,000 responders are sick and many have died from respiratory diseases and other health problems.

The AFL-CIO is a longtime advocate of the World Trade Center Health Program and supported the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed in 2010 and provided medical care and compensation to the victims. The law, which expires after five years, needs to be extended and has garnered bipartisan support to achieve that goal. This year, in remembrance of all who lost their lives on 9/11 and in honor of the brave responders who are still suffering, we ask you to contact your member of Congress and urge them to support the 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working Families: Raise Alaska’s Minimum Wage!

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined with local labor leaders and working families to rally Alaska voters to support raising the state’s minimum wage. For several decades, Alaska had the nation’s highest minimum wage, but the wage has stayed stagnant in recent years, and Alaska’s working families are falling farther and farther behind.

Alaska’s Ballot Measure 3 would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 per hour as of Jan. 1, 2015. The bill would raise the minimum wage to $9.75 per hour as of Jan. 1, 2016, then it would adjust the minimum wage each year for inflation after 2016.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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