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.
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….
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.
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.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) was among numerous people arrested as fast food workers and their supporters rallied in more than 150 cities on Thursday. Thousands of workers walked out of restaurants and picked up picket signs, demanding that big restaurant chains pay them a living wage of $15-per-hour. Home care workers also participated in the strikes. Moore was arrested in West Milwaukee, Wis., and other arrests were made in New York City, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere.
“I take great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families,” Moore said in a statement. “I’ve read their letters, I’ve heard their calls and I’ve listened to their stories. I understand their struggle, but more importantly, I see their drive to fight for a future that is equal to their talents and worthy of their dreams.”
Working families everywhere applaud the courage of the fast-food workers who are striking today and engaging in acts of civil disobedience in over 150 cities. And we applaud the unity and the collective spirit displayed by members of AFL-CIO state federations and labor councils who have joined today’s protests in solidarity.
This nation was built on the fundamental beliefs that work should be a gateway to the middle class, and that no job should ever trap someone in poverty. That’s why the “Fight for Fifteen” movement is surging and the protests are getting ever louder. It’s time for corporations to hear this resounding message: Every worker deserves a fair wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. We support them.
Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fast Food Forward, explained why protesters were willing to take arrest:
There has to be civil disobedience because workers don’t see any other way to get $15 an hour and a union. There’s a long history of this, from the civil rights movement to the farm workers movement.
Walmart is hosting a manufacturing summit in Denver this week as part of its new program to supposedly invest in products made in America for its stores across the country. The retailer is claiming its new plan will invest $250 billion over the next decade and create 1 million jobs. We’re not buying it.
But workers will not benefit from a Walmart-ification of our manufacturing sector. Jobs in the Walmart model won’t restore America’s middle class or build shared prosperity given the company’s obsession with low labor costs and undermining American labor standards. And the company’s ‘commitment’ to American manufacturing is meaningless unless it actually increases the proportion of its products that are American-made.
Here are five reasons why Walmart’s plan is nonsense:
1. The whole thing is misleading. When you dig deeper, you find that all Walmart is doing is counting the company’s natural growth as “new” investment. If the company maintains its current percentages of U.S.-sourced goods and continues to grow at the same rate as it has the last three years, $262 billion will be spent on U.S.-made goods anyway without Walmart making any changes or doing anything new. Doing a little less than what you’ve been doing and calling it “progress” isn’t exactly admirable.
…in some cases—the economics now favor “reshoring” of work back to the U.S., due to an emerging domestic energy cost advantage, rising wages in Asia, and wage stagnation in the U.S. (which Walmart might know something about). And don’t forget to consider the challenges that come from outsourcing: supply chain disruption, quality and inventory control issues, intellectual property theft, and high shipping costs.
3. Walmart is the biggest importer in the United States and it has been increasing how much it imports every year. The company now imports 2.5 times as much as it did in 2002. Walmart should make a solid commitment to cut back on its growth in imports, after decades of massive increases, to create a real net gain for American workers.
4. Walmart is off to a rocky start helping create U.S. manufacturing jobs. In the first year of the new plan, Walmart created only 2,000 new jobs, putting it way behind schedule toward reaching that goal of 1 million new jobs.
5. As the largest private employer in the nation, Walmart should start with itself to create real change for America. At the rate Walmart workers are paid, they won’t be buying many U.S.-made products or imports. Walmart must invest more in its own workforce if it wants a “buy American” strategy to succeed.
Walmart cashiers make, on average, less than $25,000 a year. An April 2014 study by Americans for Tax Fairness estimated that subsidies and tax breaks for Walmart and the Walton family cost taxpayers approximately $7.8 billion per year, including about $6.2 billion in assistance to Walmart workers due to low wages and inadequate benefits.
This initiative seems like an attempt to change the conversation from the need for Walmart to improve jobs for its 1.4 million retail workers in the United States. If Walmart is truly committed to rebuilding the American middle class, it can start with its own workers, most of whom make less than $25,000/year and struggle to make ends meet.
Walmart should use its two-day summit to prove the company is committed to real and substantive change and an end to corporate whitewashing.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement in response to events in Ferguson, Missouri:
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Michael Brown, the teenager who was recently killed in Ferguson, Missouri. His death and the anguish of the Ferguson community have rightfully become a national story. Despite the tragedy, there is also an opportunity to have an important discussion about issues that we have long neglected in this country. This conversation can only be had if cooler heads prevail. We are a nation that still remains segregated by race and class and tragedies like this highlight those divisions. It is encouraging that the Justice Department and FBI are closely investigating this incident so that the community of Ferguson is served.
The annual reports from the Social Security and Medicare Trustees released today “have good news for all Americans,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Social Security and Medicare will be there for us and our families if elected leaders listen to the American people and reject calls to cut benefits. Instead of undermining these crucial programs, we must build on their success and adopt measures to strengthen and expand them.
Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said the most important lesson from the Social Security report “is that Social Security has a large and growing surplus. Today’s report projects Social Security’s cumulative surplus to be roughly $2.8 trillion in 2014, growing to about $2.9 trillion around 2020.
Trumka noted that while “America’s most important retirement program” will remain strong for many more years to come:
It has become increasingly clear, however, that strengthening Social Security for the future must include improvements in benefits. Social Security remains the sole retirement income plan that is broadly available and that Americans can count on to provide secure lifetime benefits.
The Medicare report, Fiesta said, “reminds us once again that the Affordable Care Act is controlling health care costs.” He said:
It is great news that the life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by another four years to 2030. Attempts to repeal health care reform would only undo the progress we have made in controlling health care costs.
The Social Security Trustees reported once again that the Disability Trust Fund can pay full benefits until 2016, with enough revenue after that time to cover about 80% of promised benefits. Trumka said:
Congress should act soon to ensure disabled workers and their families will continue to receive the benefits they have earned. This can be done by allocating a larger share of current payroll tax contributions to the Disability program, as has been done many times before. Congress should reject calls to misuse this opportunity to undermine the sole source of disability income protection that is working well for America’s families.
Current and future retirees must be wary of those politicians who will use today’s Social Security and Medicare Trustees reports as political cover for radical changes that would put seniors, the disabled and the families of deceased workers at risk.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will visit the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, where he will call on more federal spending for infrastructure projects. Obama has made numerous proposals to increase spending on bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects, but Republicans in Congress have blocked those efforts. The Tappan Zee Bridge is currently in the process of being replaced, financed by a record $1.6 billion federal loan. The old bridge, which opened in 1955, has fallen into disrepair and is serving a daily capacity above what it was designed for. While Congress has failed to provide the funds needed to move forward, Obama is using alternate methods, such as the loan, to help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
“The President will also highlight efforts by the administration to cut through red tape and modernize the federal infrastructure permitting process, and reduce project approval time lines,” the White House official said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will appear in Cleveland to give a speech on similar themes of investing in infrastructure and the economy.
As part of Infrastructure Week 2014, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will speak at a rally on Thursday in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters about the vital need for upgrading our infrastructure and the positive impact doing so will have on the economy.
Putting money in roads and bridges is like planting seed corn. Investing in good jobs yields a good return. When you put seed in the ground, you get something to harvest. When you put cement in the ground, you get roads. When you put steel in the ground, you get train tracks. You get it. But if you don’t put that seed in the ground, that’s not smart. It’s not sensible. It’s not “thinking like business.” It’s cutting yourself off at the knees. And that’s what these politicians are doing to the American economy….
Trumka pointed to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers report that said the country needs to spend $3.6 trillion just to make sure that our current infrastructure doesn’t fall apart, with a similar investment needed to create the next generation infrastructure that will grow the economy.
Today is the 25th annual Workers Memorial Day, and around the country workers, workplace safety activists and community and faith leaders are honoring the men and women killed on the job and renewing their commitment to continuing the campaign for strong job safety laws and tough enforcement of those laws.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Workers Memorial Day honors “the ultimate sacrifices working people make to achieve the American Dream.”
No worker should die on the job. Every one of the 150 working men and women who die every day from injury or occupational disease serve as a constant reminder of the dangers too many face at the workplace.
There have been major improvements in the workplace safety rules and significant reduction in fatalities, injuries and illness on the job since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began operations and the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect April 28, 1971.
But those key workplace safety milestones didn’t just happen. They came about because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. Virtually every safety and health protection on the books today is there because of working men and women who joined together in unions.
Much more still needs to be done.
In 2012, 4,628 workers lost their lives on the job (up from the 4,400 previously reported). But that is only a part of the deadly toll. Each year, 50,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards. That’s a total of 150 workers dying each and every day.
Some employers cut corners and violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives. Workers who report job hazards or job injuries are fired or disciplined. Employers contract out dangerous work to try to avoid responsibility. As a result, each year thousands of workers are killed and millions more get injured or contract diseases because of their jobs.
The Obama administration has moved forward to strengthen protections with tougher enforcement and a focus on workers’ rights. Also much-needed safeguards stalled for years due to business opposition have finally started to advance, including a new proposed OSHA silica standard to protect workers from this deadly dust that causes disabling lung disease.
But other protections from workplace hazards have stalled in the face of fierce attacks by business groups and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives who have launched an all-out attack on all government regulation and safeguards.
Trumka said that as the nation remembers those who have died on the job:
We should rededicate ourselves to holding companies accountable for putting profits over people, and we must demand stronger safety standards in the workplace. Until every worker, from the farm to the factory, is guaranteed the peace of mind of a safe workplace, our job will never truly be done.