Teresa Weaver Pickard, a 42 year-old employee of the Sewon America auto parts plant in LaGrange, Georgia, passed away on Wednesday, May 29.
The autopsy could take three to four months due to a backlog of cases, according to Troup County Coroner Jeff Cook. But we do know that workers at the LaGrange Sewon plant work in extreme heat for hours on end. In the same week, several other workers passed out due to the heat.
According to an anonymous employee who spoke to the LaGrange Citizen, management keeps the air conditioning off in the break room to “discourage loitering.” It’s so hot in the break room, he says, that the candy in the vending machines melted.
“I heard that [Pickard] complained of chest pain several times before she was sent to the break room,” he also said. She was then sent to the front office, where she sat for three hours before an ambulance was called. The anonymous employee reported that he heard Pickard died on her way to the hospital.
Pickard’s tragic death is an all-too familiar story of how a combination of neglect, contempt, and apathy toward worker conditions can have terrible consequences.
In 2011, Georgia had 111 reported workplace fatalities, and nearly 79,000 workplace injuries and illnesses. Georgia is also a so-called “right to work” state, where the government bans fair share contracts and unions are sapped of resources. The Sewon plant is one of many foreign-owned manufacturing plants across the South that offer almost exclusively non-union, low-wage work.
OSHA fined the plant in 2010, but management’s behavior did not change. “It’s a really hostile environment,” said the anonymous worker, “I really believe they [management] have contempt for their workers.”
“When my hubby worked at there 2-3 years ago he would always tell me how hot it was even back then, and then the uniform was long sleeve shirts,” wrote LaGrange Citizen reader Amanda Dawn Breazeal, “He said they had air and fans but they rarely to never turned them on…When my hubby broke his finger, he asked to go to the hospital and they told him no!”
The story of this particular plant is one of many, but there is hope. If this story sounds familiar, visit FixMyJob.com and learn how you can improve your workplace.
The Speaker is making sure his colleagues in the legislature know that he intends to make banning fair bargains – also known as “right to work” – a priority in 2014. This past session, despite the efforts of some extremist legislators, no such bill made it to the floor.
But it’s not as if this session didn’t have its share of attacks on workers’ rights. After a drawn-out fight, both the Missouri House and Senate passed paycheck deception and changes to prevailing wage legislation. Both bills weaken the ability of workers to advocate for better wages and benefits at the workplace.
Working America, along with allies like the Missouri AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Jobs with Justice, and Progress Missouri, mobilized in opposition to these attacks. Hundreds of emails and calls flooded Jefferson City, with Missourians asking why the legislature had launched an assault on workers’ rights instead of focusing on creating jobs. And in each vote held on anti-worker bills, more and more Republicans broke with Speaker Jones.
Gov. Jay Nixon has said he opposes so-called “right to work” and would presumably veto it if it arrived on his desk. Speaker Jones and his corporate-backed allies are looking into other options, which could include pushing the issue to a 2014 referendum. Missouri voters rejected “right to work” when it came to the ballot in 1978.
Another option being pursued by Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) would be to pass fair bargaining bans in each Missouri county, one by one. She is researching this option “with her personal lawyer.”
No matter how it comes, Missouri extremists will be switching up the language they use. They believe “freedom to work” will work better than “right to work.”
Rehder said she’s made national contacts and done a significant amount of research into “freedom to work,” which she said is an alternative and suggested phrase for “right to work.”
“’Right to work’ has been beat up on so much,” she explained.
No matter what you call it, facts are facts. In states where fair bargaining bans – or “right to work” or “freedom to work” laws – have been passed, wages are lower, fewer people have health insurance, poverty is higher, less money is spent on education, and more workers suffer workplace injuries and fatalities.
Democratic Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) doesn’t think that this issue will fly in Missouri, this year or the next:
“I think our state has shown that blue collar, working class folks support issues that help blue collar, working class folks,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think “right to work” shows that support for those workers. “The fact that those [labor reform bills] can gain the majority of the votes in the chamber is concerning in and of itself.”
Since 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.
In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.
Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:
Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO, or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.
Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.
Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”
Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.
Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent – and like our elections, majority rules.
Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process, but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.
Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k), and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions – these laws would make that process more difficult.
Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona, and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts. The laws frequently violate the First Amendment – since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court – they’ll probably lose.
Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions.Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work state.”
The legislative session in Colorado is now three weeks in, and all of our newly and not-so-newly elected officials are running around the capital trying to make their marks. What does that mean for Denver’s Community Action Team? We get a chance to do what we do best: strengthen our movement to hold our politicians accountable and stand up for working families across the state.
Many of our activists have never had the opportunity to be involved with an organization like Working America. Some became interested only after an organizer knocked on their door to talk about issues affecting the middle class. A few were actually former organizers that felt impacted by the work they were doing and the folks they got a chance to interact with. In each case, a small, moving conversation touched on a personal note for each of our activists, and inspired each person to take a step forward towards making a difference.
Fast forward to now and we have a group of diverse, smart, passionate, hardworking activists who can rely on each other and the organization to the keep the movement going. We are young, old, professional, retired, unemployed, parents, students, and everything in between. It is understood that it is not the differences that keep us coming back month after month, but our common bonds and experiences. Most importantly, we all agree on the same goals: to help strengthen the middle class in whatever ways that we can.
While the friendships and sense of community are powerful in themselves, our Community Action Team realized that if we really want to feel empowered and pass that empowerment onto our communities, we needed to challenge ourselves to become leaders. At our meeting in January, Working America facilitated an Organizing 101 training to give our activists the tools necessary to organize our individual communities. We developed a training that highlighted the power to fight with people versus that of money or weapons. We discussed having that very first conversation that might inspire someone to get involved, and some of the best practices for making those conversations effective. Part of the training was a fun interactive skit where we demonstrated the power of cooperative leadership. It illustrated what we want our leadership model to be; one where everyone relies on one another to build stability, motivation, creativity, and accountability and coordination keeps it together. We ended by agreeing to practice having those conversations by gathering petition signatures for an upcoming labor bill.
One member, Dave, is well on his way to becoming a leader of his own community. “My attitude is one of finding the infinite value and worth of every person and creature. That said, however, I repeat my sincere thanks to the whole team. I was deeply inspired by each and every team member. And, mostly, by the special magic of the simple fact that ordinary working people have once again come together to act out the promise of our common humanity. This simple fact of coming together elevates and inspires us all–and, we must hold on to and protect our common efforts.”
As hard as Michigan’s winters can hit, so has our latest lame duck session.
Before last December, there were 23 states with fair bargaining bans, also known as “right to work” states. Sadly, the cradle of labor holds the title as number 24. On December 11th, the Michigan legislature rammed through numerous controversial bills, exploiting the advantage of a lame duck session.
Through a shameful display of cowardice, they passed so-called “right to work” legislation in record time with no debate in both the State House and Senate, no committee hearings and with a $1 million appropriation attached to it, effectively making it impossible to bring this issue to the voters in an election. “Why can’t you take this to the voters? Because you know what will happen. You’re doing this in the lame duck because you know in the next session you won’t have the votes!” Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids).
The Republicans chose to ignore their constituents, and rolled back decades of workers’ rights that many made deep sacrifices to achieve.
Now that the lame duck session is over, a new legislative session has begun. Along with it come concerns that banning fair bargaining in Michigan isn’t far enough for Republican legislators. The threat of privatization hangs over the heads of teachers and staff in our public schools. Possible efforts to roll back MIOSHA, the state agency overseeing worker safety, could make workplaces across Michigan even more unsafe.
But currently what concerns Working America’s members in Michigan the most is the repeal of Prevailing Wages. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area. These standards are crucial and necessary to provide a livable and fair wage to skilled workers that build our roads, highways, schools and other government funded projects.
When you eliminate the prevailing wage standard, it encourages contractors to take short cuts. It compromises work quality, increases injury rates and lost work time, and results in higher maintenance costs.
This will also bring more outsourcing into Michigan. Predatory contractors will gain the incentive to underbid established businesses by using unskilled or low-skilled workers that come from other parts of the country who are willing to work for less than the local labor market is paying.
Our organizers have been reaching out to members, and overwhelmingly they agree that this is the wrong direction to go.
“The state of Michigan’s economy is very important and fair wages must be paramount for the workers. As a stay at home mom it is important that the wages of my husband be protected. You can protect prevailing wage laws. Please keep the wages with the workers” says member Trisha Zessler of Monroe.
Rich CEO’s and their lobbyists would like to make you think that repealing prevailing wage would save taxpayers money. But in reality, it will cost us more in the long run. Pension plans that were previously privately covered will force tax payers to pick up the tab. Roads that were constructed and repaired by qualified and highly skilled workers will be built with lower standards, making it more likely to need repairs sooner and be replaced frequently. And you can count on dramatically slashed wages for our workers.
This is the last thing that we need here in Michigan. This isn’t carrying the message of more jobs. Instead, it is clearly sending a message that we deserve to be paid less and put more of our hard earned tax dollars in the pockets of rich CEO’s.
Right before the November election, every polling outfit showed the same thing: Even as Michigan voters moved to reelect Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Democratic President Barack Obama, opinion of Republican Governor Rick Snyder, remained fairly high.
Despite controversial policies like the emergency manager law, Public Policy Polling found that 47 percent of Michiganders approved of Snyder’s performance while only 37 percent disapproved.
Today, PPP found that only 38 percent of Michigan voters approved of Snyder while 58 percent disapprove – that’s a net drop of 28 percent. And if the 2014 election was held today, Snyder would lose badly to any of his potential Democratic opponents.
There’s a fair amount of sniping every time a new poll comes out, but here’s what’s important: Snyder is in trouble with the voters for policies he and allies claim are popular.
But that’s not the case: Michiganders want action to create jobs, improve their schools, and have more money in their pocket at the end of the day. Snyder has used this lame duck session to do the exact opposite.
From November 7 to December 18, Gov. Snyder shed his image of a centrist, business-oriented decision-maker to reveal the corporate-backed, anti-worker ideologue underneath. Here is how that revelation happened:
Gov. Snyder did a 180 on workers’ rights and signed a so-called “right to work” (for less) bill into law, banning free bargaining in Michigan. He had previously testified to Congress in February that the issue was too divisive.
Snyder also allowed the legislature to inoculate themselves against the recall process, which is one of the only actions voters can take to express disapproval (especially when legislators don’t reveal their true agenda before the election).
About a month after a referendum repealed Snyder’s undemocratic emergency manager policy, which allows state takeover of local governments, Snyder signed a new one into law.
Also in the poll, PPP found that 51 percent oppose the free bargaining ban (including 50 percent of independents), and that 40 would vote to repeal it by referendum if given the chance.
And before you go thinking that this is a skewed, biased, or otherwise unreliable poll, remember this: Public Policy Polling was the most accurate pollster of the 2012 cycle, according to study by Fordham University.
Last week, we saw an unprecedented attack on our working rights by Governor Snyder and Republican lawmakers in Lansing.
The Michigan State House and State Senate have already passed “right to work” legislation, and it could get to Governor Snyder’s desk as soon as tomorrow.
But we can’t go quietly.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, thousands of working people from across the Great Lakes State will gather at the Capitol in Lansing to tell lawmakers that unions built Michigan’s middle class, and all workers benefit from unions’ gains.
Governor Snyder has made it clear that he’ll sign this legislation when it reaches his desk. And that may be true, but we need to let him know that Michiganders elected him to create jobs and protect the middle class, not to attack us.
This is really it. We need to get as many people to Lansing tomorrow as possible, and we’re counting on you to make it.
1.) The Michigan House and Senate yesterday passed so-called “right to work” bills.“Right to work” laws effectively defund the ability of workers to have a voice at their workplace. In 23 other states, these laws have lowered wages, weakened benefits, raised the poverty rate, and led to increased workplace injuries and deaths. The House passed one such bill and the Senate passed two.
2.) Republican leaders in Michigan were not honest about their intent. The morning began with Governor Rick Snyder reversing his earlier position on the “right to work.” He had previously said that the bill was “not on his agenda,” and that it was a divisive issue – but then yesterday, he suddenly urged the House and Senate to pass the bill and said he would sign it when it reached his desk. Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville previously opposed “right to work,” but expressed support for it on Thursday morning.
3.) There were no committee hearings concerning the bills. With an issue this controversial, this is a highly unusual move. Republicans avoided the need for committee hearings by changing the intent of a previously passed bill.
4.) There was no floor debate concerning the bill. Another highly unusual move, considering the high profile “right to work” bill. But Republicans took advantage of their majority by ending debate on the bill before it started.
6.) The public was not allowed inside the Capitol Building to observe the proceedings. Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger locked down the Capitol, locking approximately 3,000 Michiganders outside. It took a court order requested by Democrats to get the building opened again, but even then the Republican-controlled House did not pause their proceedings.
8.) The “right to work” bill is rigged so that it can’t be repealed. Republicans inserted a $1 million appropriation on the bill, which under Michigan law precludes it from being overturned by a citizen referendum. As blogger Chris Savage wrote, “not only was there no opportunity for public input before the bills were voted on, there will be none afterwards, as well.”
2.) If you are in Michigan,you can call your State Senator now using our “click-to-call” system. Even if you don’t know who your Senator is, you can enter your address and get connected to the right person
Three weeks ago, Mitt Romney lost the state of Michigan by almost 10 percentage points. This week, Michigan Republicans are trying to pass one of his economic policies while no one is looking.
Republicans in the Michigan legislature are seeking to take advantage of their pre-election majorities to sneak through a “right to work” (RTW) bill, which would ban union security clauses and harm the ability of workers to bargain with their employers. In states with RTW laws on the books, wages are lower, benefits are fewer, and workplace injuries and fatalities are more common. (Learn more.)
The possibility of so-called Right-to-Work legislation (also called “Right to Work for Less” by opponents) is sucking almost all the oxygen out of the capitol. A bunch of Republican heavyweights, mostly business types from the west side of the state, are fiercely lobbying legislators to take quick advantage of big GOP majorities in both the House and Senate and pass it once and for all.
One man has the power to stop all of this. No, not Governor Rick Snyder, who said RTW is “not on his agenda” but hasn’t said he wouldn’t sign a bill if it reached his desk. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has previously said he would not support RTW, but is feeling pressure from donors, Tea Party activists, and right-wing members of his caucus. He is the chair of the Government Operations Committee that could take up the RTW issue this week.
We don’t agree with Sen. Richardville on every issue, but we certainly respect that he has opposed RTW in the past. He needs to know that Michganders want more jobs, not fewer rights.