Senate OKs Jobless Benefits Renewal, Tell the House to Do the Same

Senate OKs Jobless Benefits Renewal, Tell the House to Do the Same

More than three months after House Republicans leaders allowed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits program to expire, nearly 2.8 million jobless workers have lost their economic lifeline. Monday, the U.S. Senate gave those workers a ray of hope when it passed (59-38) a bill reviving the program for long-term jobless workers. Now it is up to the House to keep that hope alive.

House leaders have said they won’t take up the Senate bill, which provides retroactive benefits to Dec. 28, but only extends the program to May 31. Congress is due to leave town for a two-week recess.

Call your House members today at 845-809-4509 and urge them to pass the emergency unemployment benefits extension now. 

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chief sponsor of the Senate bill (S. 2077), said:

The beneficiaries of this bill have earned these UI [unemployment insurance] benefits through hard work, and they have the right to expect their representatives in Congress would not stand in the way of this emergency assistance. Reauthorizing emergency UI benefits in times of economic hardship has historically not been a partisan issue, and it’s time we revert to that longstanding tradition of extending a hand to our fellow Americans in their time of need.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

It has been a long cold winter for 2.8 million Americans who have been callously cut off from receiving emergency unemployment benefits.  Today’s vote in the Senate is a critical step in thawing the long economic freeze that families have suffered through.  What’s next?  Finding enough Republican leaders in the House who have the backbone to stand with working people rather than cater to extreme partisan ideology.  We believe it’s possible. We call on Members of the House to quickly renew these crucial benefits.  It is shameful that families in need have had to wait this long.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Senate Reaches Bipartisan Deal on UI

Senate negotiators announced this evening that they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a bill to revive the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits that expired at the end of 2013. Since then more than 2 million long-term jobless workers have lost their benefits.

Action on the bill will not occur until at least March 24, following the upcoming Senate recess/state work period. Details on the bill were not released. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka urged lawmakers to move quickly.

Every day that goes by where families have to decide between heating bills and putting gas in the car to drive to a job interview is a day that we are failing America’s workers.  The Senate should act immediately to extend unemployment benefits and the House should quickly follow.

Since the first of the year Republicans have blocked action on several attempts to revive the jobless aid for long-term unemployed workers. But Trumka said that today’s announcement “is a good sign that there is bi-partisan agreement and that the Senate is working together to get this done.”

If the Senate acts swiftly and responsibly it looks like 2 million jobless Americans may be closer to getting relief in the form of emergency unemployment insurance.  We will have to look closely at what a final deal looks like and whether it adds additional burdens to workers who are already struggling.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Labor Leaders See Promise in Organizing in Texas

The AFL-CIO Executive Council is meeting in Texas this week as a sign of confidence that the southern state has great potential for workers who are organizing on the job. A Houston Chronicle profile takes a look at efforts in Texas and goals for broader organizing efforts in the South:

The AFL-CIO executive [council] has come to Texas, setting its sights on what has been inhospitable terrain and betting workers in the state can be drawn to organized labor’s efforts to raise wages.

Buoyed by the growth of the energy industry along the Gulf Coast and fortified with organizing wins at poultry plants and manufacturing parts makers, the heads of some of the nation’s largest labor unions are meeting in Texas for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

Members of the executive [council] hope the labor federation can continue to notch victories across the South, either through traditional organizing or public campaigns to boost the minimum wage.

They are meeting in a city where, less than a decade ago, labor celebrated its first large-scale victory in a quarter-century when a union once affiliated with the AFL-CIO organized the janitors who clean the largest office buildings.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., said the federation wants to send the message that the labor federation is expanding its horizons to new places and to new people.

“Our focus is on raising wages,” Trumka said, claiming during a news conference Monday that “everyone from the pope to the president” is embracing the global efforts.

Read the full article.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: ‘Right-Wing Zealotry’ Played Role in VW Vote

After unprecedented interference from politicians and out-of-state extremists like Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted 712–626 against representation by theUAW that would have led to the establishment of a works council, the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the workers stood up to “enormous odds to try to form their own union and to create an historic new model of workplace governance.” He adds:

Unconscionably, what should have been a local workplace decision by workers and management was turned into an experiment in new forms of right-wing zealotry over issues having nothing to do with how stakeholders decided for themselves the best way to build automobiles and create a strong Chattanooga community.

While Volkswagen had agreed to remain neutral, Republican lawmakers and right-wing groups mounted a large-scale anti-union attack. UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s southern organizing, says:

Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee.

Says UAW President Bob King:

While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union.

Trumka says:

But, make no mistake, the closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to Appear on CNN’s ‘Crossfire’ Tonight

What’s the state of the U.S. economy? Why do we need a higher minimum wage? Watch AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka tonight at 6:30 p.m. EST tackle these questions on CNN’s “Crossfire” with co-hosts Van Jones and S.E. Cupp and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

You can join the conversation online on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #Crossfire.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Senate Fails to Renew Emergency Unemployment Aid

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released this statement after a procedural vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits failed in the Senate:

Today the Senate once again failed to approve an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, 40 days after the benefit was allowed to lapse. The bill fell short by one Republican vote. Just one vote prevented 1.7 million Americans from receiving a desperately needed lifeline. On Monday I joined Sheri Minkoff, an unemployed worker and single mother from Pittsburgh, in urging the Senate to help the millions of workers who are struggling. Sheri, like so many others, worked for years before losing her job in an economy that isn’t adding jobs nearly fast enough. Despite her experience, she has been unable to find work and has even been forced to dip into her son’s savings to pay for essentials. No family should have to experience what Sheri has, especially when there are not enough jobs for those who want to work. We urge the House and the Senate to make this right for Sheri and so many others. And we will not stop fighting until it happens.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Labor Movement Is a Lot Bigger Than You Think

While 11.3% of U.S. workers officially belong to unions, the labor movement is much larger. The movement isn’t limited to official union members and the last year showed that, as workers marched side by side, union members or not, to fight back against injustices championed by corporate interests that are out of touch with America’s working families. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the federation’s constitutional convention in Los Angeles, “Politicians and employers want to divide us; they try it every single day. They want to tell us who can be in our movement and who can’t, and we can’t let them.”

An article at The American Prospect describes the trend of new ways workers are standing up for their rights:

Those government union membership statistics, however, don’t capture an entire swath of new, exciting and emerging labor activists—’alt-labor’ activists—whom alarmed employers would like to see regulated by the same laws that apply to unions. Yet, before we regulate them as unions, shouldn’t we first count them as unions?

Who isn’t being counted in those official numbers? A lot of people:

  • Striking fast-food workers who are calling for a $15-an-hour wage.
  • Walmart workers who went on strike for Black Friday.
  • Day laborers who have joined one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide.
  • Restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers and domestic workers organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions.
  • Millions of members of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

These numbers also don’t count people like the college athletes who are seeking to unionize and the many workers who are trying to form unions but are thwarted by employers or weakened labor law.

Some of the extremists opposed to these groups want them limited in their ability to organize, while not wanting to count them in the official numbers, so labor looks weaker. As the Prospect notes:

However, in a 21st century economy in which collective bargaining has been so severely weakened by structural changes and the roll back in workers’ rights, these new labor activists represent an important frontier for people concerned about worker power and economic inequality writ large. You know that workers are on to something when employers start to get nervous. It turns out the low union membership statistics may not be as good a measure of labor’s future as employers would hope.

And the reality behind those official statistics, and the rise of alt-labor, should be heartening to supporters of working families.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Despite Millions Spent in Opposition, Date Set for High Profile Union Election in Chattanooga

After months of organizing, fighting, advocating, and waiting, the NLRB has set a date for a secret-ballot union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee for February 12, to 14.

Chattanooga has the only major Volkswagen plant in the United States, employing 1,600 workers. And it’s unique: At all other VW plants worldwide, workers have the opportunity to join German-style “works councils”–committees of blue collar workers, white collar employees, and representatives from management who discuss plant conditions.

The Chattanooga plant has been the site of a high-dollar proxy battle, drawing the United Auto Workers and national anti-union giants like Grover Norquist, who set up an organization called the Center for Worker Freedom to oppose the organizing effort.

But unlike most other union fights, Volkswagen management does not oppose the UAW’s organizing:

Scott Wilson, a VW spokesman, said: “Volkswagen values the rights of its employees in all locations to representation of their interests.  In the United States, it is only possible to realize this in conjunction with a union.  This is a decision that ultimately lies in the hands of the employees. For this reason, we have begun a dialogue with the U.A.W.”

That puts the outside forces in the odd position of criticizing both the union organizers and the Volkswagen management. Don Jackson, who until 2012 headed up American manufacturing for Volkswagen, has become an outspoken opponent of what his former employer is doing in Chattanooga. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said it was “beyond belief,” VW would allow a union election, saying they would become a “laughingstock” if the UAW succeeded.

AFL-CIO President Trumka dismissed the rantings from Corker and others. “Claims that union representation would make Tennessee a ‘laughingstock in the business world,’ or deter other companies from moving South are nothing more than attempts to hold on to a polarizing, unproductive ‘us vs. them’ status quo,” Trumka wrote in the Detoit News, “Volkswagen’s willingness to work collaboratively is a strong part of its success.”

It’s clear that this fight isn’t just about one plant. “It seems that both the business community and labor are seeing what’s happening at VW as a pivotal moment in the Southern automotive business and labor history,” says Vanderbilt University labor expert Daniel B. Cornfield.

Luckily, the decision will ultimately be in the hands of the 1,600 workers who punch in every day at the Chattanooga plans. “For me to have a voice at the workplace would tremendously increase my chances of staying here,” said Seth Landis, an Electrical Rework Line Team Member at Chattanooga.

“I’m excited. I can’t wait,” said Paint Finish Team Member Tammy Flint. “I just can’t wait for this to get started, I’m ready for it.”

Voting begins February 12.

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8 Reasons College Athletes Need a Union

Last spring, Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter approached National College Players Association (NCPA) President Ramogi Huma about help in getting college athletes more of a say in their own fate so they can improve playing conditions. Huma and Colter worked with the United Steelworkers (USW) and this week they filed the paperwork and cards with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), seeking to establish the first union for college athletes in history called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). The number of players who signed union cards wasn’t disclosed, but Colter expressed that it was more than enough for the process to move forward.

Colter explained the reasons he thought union representation was important for players:

The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern. We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players—at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come. Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.

As was bound to happen, the NCAA replied with some boilerplate nonsense and confidence that it didn’t have to do anything else to compensate or protect players who make member schools billions of dollars a year:

The NCAA responded with a statement from Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy who said, “student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act,” and that there is no existing employment relationships between the “NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.”

“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education,” Remy said in the statement. “Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”

The labor movement was quick to endorse the players desire for a union. USW is the union of record on the paperwork the players submitted. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) also expressed support for theircollege counterparts.

USW President Leo W. Gerard said:

Too many athletes who generate huge sums of money for their universities still struggle to pay for basic necessities, and too many live in fear of losing their scholarships due to injury or accident….These students deserve some assurance that when they devote weeks, months and years of their lives to an academic institution, that they will not be left out to dry, without the same basic protections that we all expect from the institutions we serve.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka alluded to the challenges college athletes face being part of the larger labor struggle:

The lesson that strength comes from standing together is one Colter has learned fulfilling his 60-hour-plus weeks as a football player, and it is true for all workers, whether they teach school, build Volkswagens in Chattanooga, [Tenn.,] or serve as home health care workers.

With that context in mind, here are eight reasons college athletes need a voice on the field:

1. Sports can kill you: There are many stories over the years of college and high school football players dying because of on-field or practice-related problems, particularly concussions, like the one that killed Frostburg State University player Derek Sheely last year. Many players don’t think the NCAA does enough to protect the safety of players, and the NCAA is on record saying that it has no legal obligation to protect players from head injuries. The NCPA has developed a safety plan it wants the NCAA to adopt.

2. The costs of a sports-related injury are not covered by the college: The NCAA doesn’t require schools to cover the costs that athletes incur when they are injured in relation to their sport. These injuries have left players with debts that can exceed $10,000, with many of those injuries reducing a player’s ability to earn money to pay for those costs.

3. An injury can end a player’s education: If a player gets injured, even through no fault of their own, they can be dropped by the college. Many colleges do the right thing and let them continue going to school, but it isn’t required.

4. Only half of football and men’s basketball players graduate: One of the key arguments against increased compensation for players is that they’re “getting a free education.” But an incomplete education doesn’t do a whole lot to expand the career options of the vast majority of players who don’t play professional sports. If schools don’t prioritize graduation for these players, are they really providing them with a free education? Or are they exploiting them for their talent and then casting them aside?

5. Athletic scholarships don’t cover all of a player’s costs: A recent study has shown that, on average, a college athlete’s scholarship leaves them about $3,200 short of the costs of attending college each year. Players are not allowed to receive pay for work to cover that cost.

6. Players who fail to live up to expectations can be cast aside: When a player takes a chance on signing to play with a school and they don’t live up to that school’s expectations, that player can lose their scholarship and lose their opportunity at finishing their education. The NCPA is calling for these players to be given given non-athletic scholarships so they can finish their degrees, since they sacrificed other opportunities by signing with the school that no longer wants them.

7. Colleges make billions off of players, who get a tiny piece of that pie: The power conferences in football and men’s basketball make an estimated $5.15 billion annually off of the players. Beyond scholarships, players get no compensation, despite the fact that schools not only make money off of the players for the games and TV contracts, but also off of merchandising, particularly in the form of apparel and video games (although there has been some limitation of this type of revenue in recent years).

8. Players don’t control their own destiny: If a player thinks they could be better served or have more opportunity at another school, they don’t have a ton of options. Most transfers require players to sit out a year and to lose a year of eligibility, unless they transfer to a lower division school that offers less visibility and can limit their future prospects in their sport.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Let’s Stop the ‘Fast Track’ to Bigger Trade Deficits and Lower Wages

Let's Stop the 'Fast Track' to Bigger Trade Deficits and Lower Wages

Congress is considering new legislation that would “fast track” new trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), moving them through Congress more quickly by limiting the transparency, accountability and oversight necessary for such trade deals to serve America’s working families rather than extreme corporate interests.  Republicans Dave Camp (Mich.), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the fast track legislation and AFL-CIO has launched a petition calling on Congress to oppose this undemocratic and anti-worker legislation.  While proponents of these trade deals often make bold promises about the benefits of such agreements, in reality they do little more than increase trade deficits and hurt America’s working families.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently made it clear how strongly the labor federation opposed fast track:

The Trade Promotion Authority bill submitted today by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and Senate Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch is out of date, poorly conceived and bad for American workers. For that reason, the AFL-CIO opposes this legislation in the strongest of terms and will actively work to block its passage.

As we’ve seen previously, such deals increase our trade deficits and they often do so at the detriment of not only the American economy, but the rights of workers in the countries we trade with.  NAFTA alone has led to the displacement of 700,000 jobs.  Workers in countries like Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Jordan and Bahrain, have been the targets of detention, persecution, threats, and murder.  These deals frequently lead to increased corporate profits and control of the world economy and less and less life, liberty, and happiness pursuit for workers.

Working families and their advocates are standing up against these trade deals and things like fast track that make these deals less democratic and accountable to the people.  In New York, a group of lawmakers, union, and environmental activists is took to the steps of City Hall to protest fast track.

New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said that the TPP proposal “will not provide adequate transparency, accountability, or oversight. It fails to protect American workers and American jobs.”  Rep. José E. Serrano (D-NY) echoed those sentiments: “Fast-tracking is simply a way in my opinion, of doing things without Congress really knowing about it. We’re always told that these trade agreements will create jobs, and a better environment, and then five years later we find out it’s not true.”

Sign the petition and tell Congress that repeating failed policies is not the way to create jobs and grow the economy.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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