More than 35 people gathered at the Northern Virginia labor office on Monday, March 23, to participate in a 90-minute Common Sense Economics workshop conducted by the AFL-CIO. Among those taking part were representatives from the NAACP, religious social action networks, immigrant rights groups, young people and elected officials, as well as union representatives, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
The workshop was led by Roberta Reardon (former SAG-AFTRA co-president, left in the picture below) and Will Fischer (right in the picture) of the AFL-CIO. The course helped explain in laymen’s terms what is happening to jobs in America and how workers can regain control of the debate regarding living wages, workplace safety and trade agreements. Each participant left with a pledge to conduct similar workshops within their own organizations.
“This session was very valuable as Virginians gear up for fall elections that will include all members of the General Assembly as well as numerous local positions,” noted NOVA Area Labor Federation President Daniel Duncan. “We will be working with all these groups and others to help the middle class fight back.”
In 2015, nearly 5 million American workers might get a pay raise. By joining together to ask for one. Through a union.
Minimum wage hikes, overtime expansion, paid sick leave and other policy improvements are important to raise wages in America. But the best way for workers to get a raise is by asking for one with a collective voice. That’s what workers do—bargain together in unions to improve our lives.
And this is an exceptional moment for raising wages through collective bargaining. More new contracts will be bargained by unions and employers in 2015 than at any other point in modern American labor history.
Autoworkers in Michigan, public workers in Illinois and New Jersey, communication workers at AT&T and Verizon, clerks at Kroger and Foodtown, postal workers, employees of Disneyland and others will negotiate wages and benefits. Government will not dictate the outcome. Workers expressing their collective voice will sit down with management and decide on a fair allocation of the rising profits resulting from the recovery.
Five million workers asking for a raise? Yeah, and it’s about time. All U.S. workers should ask for more. Wages have been stagnant for over a decade. In fact, between 1997 and 2012, the income of those in the bottom 90 percent fell by $2,868, even as workers’ productivity rose. Current data tell the same story. The last two months point to economic recovery and robust job growth, but with virtually no upward effect on wages.
What we are seeing is wage theft on a grand, macroeconomic scale. Workers feel deep frustration in the face of the relentless disparity between productivity and wages. I know, because that’s what they tell me. In every industry, in every state, at every hourly wage level. But workers don’t need any more economic analysis; we want solutions.
That’s why collective bargaining is so important in 2015 and long term. First, income inequality is not just a low-wage worker problem; falling wages are a fact for workers at every pay level up to the top 10 percent. Second, collective bargaining is the primary way to address wage stagnation across the whole economy. Income inequality is not a mysterious phenomenon; it results from the economic rules we have created. It can be solved by changing those rules.
And that solution must recognize the precarious position of workers acting alone. Again, today’s data support this assertion. A January story in The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey of U.S. workers that found while only 8 percent were satisfied with their pay, fewer than half had asked for a raise. The Journal concluded, “When it comes to pay, people are afraid to ask for more.”
Workers should not be afraid to demand what we have earned. Unions and collective bargaining are critical to righting this imbalance. Historically, when unions are strong, wages rise in proportion to profit. And it is not only union members who benefit; there is a spillover effect lifting the pay of all workers. From 1935, when the National Labor Relation Act was passed, to 1980, almost 70 percent of income growth benefited the bottom 90 percent and only 7.1 percent went to the top 1 percent.
Collective bargaining is ground zero in the debate about raising wages in America. It should be front and center as Congress considers policy and as presidential candidates announce agendas. Moreover, the results will illuminate the larger issue underpinning chronic wage stagnation: that vibrant worker organizations are key to restoring the balance of economic power in our country.
Even workers who are not yet represented by a union should be encouraged to speak up, especially with a collective voice. No worker should be afraid to ask for a raise, and federal law protects that right. Everyone who works should ask for a raise in 2015. We deserve it, and the health of our economy depends on it.
If you’re not sure what Fast Track is, check out the video above where AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains it quite simply. If you need a more in-depth primer, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) provides one. Meanwhile, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) is holding meetings across the country to try to convince members of Congress that Fast Track is wrong for the country. And the more we look at what TPP might turn out to be, we find out that it has elements like Investor-State Dispute Settlement or that it won’t require potential members to comply with international labor rights.
If you think this doesn’t sound like what working families or America’s economy need right now, sign the AFL-CIO’s petition opposing Fast Track.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.