What Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg Overlooked…and Gawker Writers Get Right

This article was originally posted on Medium.

Earlier this month, the CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, announced the company would no longer allow employees to negotiate their salaries. Pao explained the move was an attempt to close the pay gap between women and men since, based on her experience, women are worse negotiators than men and as she put it, “From what I’ve heard from women, they…feel like there’s no way to win.”

Pao’s claim that some women lose out at the negotiating table is correct. And her instinct to take action and use her power as CEO to level the playing field is admirable. But her response misses the point of what’s really happening for women at work.

Women don’t need less negotiating power. They need more. And no one woman — CEO or front-line worker — can solve this problem alone.

Many hardworking women lose out on wages not because they are ineffective negotiators. Rather, they, along with their male colleagues, lack the power to come together to raise wages collectively.

As secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO and a woman who has dealt with her share of office politics, I understand the challenges that both Ellen Pao and Sheryl Sandberg describe on the job. But I have a very different solution.

I got my start in the labor movement working with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union on an organizing campaign of clerical workers at Portland General Electric (PGE) in my home state of Oregon shortly after I graduated from college. While the power linemen at PGE were all union members, the clerical workers— mainly women — were not.

It became apparent that the linemen received good pay and benefits, thanks to their union contract; but the clerical workers did not have that collective power and lacked leverage to negotiate better pay and conditions in the workplace that they deserved. It wasn’t a big leap for the clerical workers to realize they too could raise their wages and secure benefits through a union contract like their linemen peers.

The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave among other benefits.

And in direct response to Ellen Pao’s concern about the wage gap, union negotiated contracts narrow the pay gap between men and women significantly. In fact, a typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion working woman. Most industries that are predominantly female like fast food and home health care pay low wages that often don’t even cover the basic necessities of life. These low wages act to keep women’s salaries down in every industry, not just in low-wage work.

The tech economy has changed a lot of things — from bitcoin to social media. But, unfortunately, some things have stayed the same. It’s hard to erase sex discrimination with a simple rule change and even harder to improve working conditions when employees aren’t allowed to sit across the table from their boss and negotiate.

But there’s a tried and true remedy to these problems. Why shouldn’t the women of Silicon Valley join a union if they want to close the gender pay gap?

And why shouldn’t they sit with their male colleagues and raise wages for workers across the board? Or negotiate workplace policies that ensure mothers and fathers are able to succeed at work and take care of their families?

Many high-tech workers already have said yes to a collective voice: From NASA engineers to professional, technical and other highly skilled workers at Boeing and computer scientists and technicians at AT&T. Tech workers have enjoyed the benefits of union membership for decades. Currently, groups of Silicon Valley workers such as shuttle drivers are trying to organize to gain a stronger voice on the job.

Even professionals at online blogs like Gawker are unionizing for a voice at work. If workers in new media can do it, anyone can. If people continue to re-imagine what a union can look like in their workplace and adapt the value of collective action to meet modern challenges — perhaps Reddit, too, can think about narrowing the pay gap by helping women and men negotiate better pay and a fair workplace through a union.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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150 Workers Will Die Today

Despite significant advancements in workplace health and safety in the 44 years since the Occupational Safety and Health Act become law, today and every day 150 people will be killed on the job or die from job-related illnesses and diseases. That and other sobering statistics about the preventable deaths and injuries workers face each day are in the 2015 edition of the AFL-CIO’s annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect released today.

In 2013 (the latest figures available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) 4,585 workers were killed on the job, and some 53,000 died from occupational diseases. Also, nearly 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported. The true toll is likely two to three times greater or 7.6 million to 11.4 million injuries a year. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

No worker should be exposed to fatal injuries and illnesses at work, yet every day 150 men and women die from a work injury or occupational disease. Their deaths remind us that Americans still—in 2015—face too many dangers at the workplace.

The report includes state-by-state profiles of workers’ safety and health and features state and national information on workplace fatalities, injuries, illnesses, the number and frequency of workplace inspections, penalties, funding, staffing and public employee coverage under the OSH Act.

Here are some key facts from Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect:

North Dakota remains the most dangerous state for workers, with an average of 14.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers, more than four times the national average of 3.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. The next deadliest states for workers are Wyoming (9.5), West Virginia (8.6), Alaska (7.9) and New Mexico (6.7).

On the other hand (see graphic above), states with the highest union density are among the safest for workers, with 13 states ranked in the top 20 for both union density and lowest rates of workplace fatalities.

Death on the Job also finds that Latino and immigrant worker deaths, injuries and occupational illnesses are on the rise. In 2013, 817 Latinos died on the job—a rate 18% greater than the national average—and 66% of Latinos killed on the job were immigrants.

In the area of job safety enforcement to ensure employers are not violating workplace safety laws, the report says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) remain underfunded and understaffed.

In addition, penalties for employers who are found to be lawbreakers are weak. The average federal OSHA penalty for serious violations is just $1,972 and the median federal OSHA penalty for worker deaths is only $5,050. Of the 390,000 worker deaths since 1970, only 88 cases have been criminally prosecuted.

Also many important workplace and mine safety rules remain stalled, some due to administration inaction but mainly because of congressional Republican and corporate opposition. For example, in 2013, OSHA issued a rule that would reduce silica dust exposures and strengthen worker protections against silica, which causes lung cancer, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases and silicosis, a debilitating and irreversible lung disease. It is estimated the rule would save some 700 lives a year and prevent 1,600 cases of silicosis annually. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups are lobbying against finalizing this commonsense rule.

You can join the workplace safety by clicking here to sign a petition telling Congress that workers need a stronger silica standard. Read the full Death on the Job report at www.aflcio.org/death-on-the-job.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Raising Wages Is ‘Measuring Stick’ for Presidential Candidate Support, Trumka Declares

As the 2016 presidential battle begins to roll down the campaign trail toward Election Day 18 months from now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The labor movement’s doors are open to any candidate who is serious about transforming our economy with high and rising wages.”

In a live-streamed speech this morning from the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., Trumka said:

We have created an agenda for shared prosperity called raising wages. It will be our inspiration and our measuring stick throughout the presidential campaign.  Raising wages is grounded in a fundamental idea—that we can become a high-wage society, a society in which the people who do the work share in the wealth we create.

He also stressed that the labor movement opposes Fast Track and:

We expect those who seek to lead our nation forward to oppose Fast Track. There is no middle ground, and the time for deliberations is drawing to a close.

Trumka pointed to the skepticism and cynicism many voters feel, especially after nearly two generations national leaders have either “taken steps that worsened inequality or fiddled around the edges, trying to raise wages in an economy fundamentally built to lower wages.”

President Obama has spent much of his presidency getting our nation out of a deep economic crisis. Now we have an economy where GDP is up, and the stock market is up, but wages remain flat—and this has happened again and again since the 1970s. Once again, America is emerging from an economic crisis—but those of us who count on paychecks are not. And that’s not an accident. Workers are being held down on purpose.

He said the decline in wages, soaring corporate profits and booming CEO pay are not the result “of the wandering and clumsy hand of capitalism.” Instead, he said:

Since the 1980s, the growing political power of the wealthiest among us has rewritten our labor laws, our trade laws, our tax laws, our monetary policies, our fiscal policies, our financial regulations…all to push wages down and to increase corporate profits, to put speculation over private investment and tax cuts over public investment.

The results, Trumka said, are runaway inequality, unemployment, falling wages, rising economic insecurity, collapsing infrastructure and deteriorating national competitiveness—all driven by gigantic imbalances in economic and political power.

In the 2016 campaign, “there will be no place to hide for those who aspire to lead America,” he said.

The problems of income inequality and stagnant wages are so clear, so abundant, that only direct, sweeping action to change the rules will put our nation on a fresh path of progress. We are hungry for a path to a prosperous 21st century. And America’s workers know that the first step on that path is raising wages.

But he emphasized that a raising wages agenda is a broad vision that includes earned sick leave, full employment and fair overtime rules for workers. It also includes taxing Wall Street to pay for massive investments in infrastructure and education, so Wall Street serves Main Street, not the other way around and the ability for workers to bargain collectively with employers for good wages and benefits without fear of retaliation.

Any candidate who wants to appeal to workers has to put forth a bold and comprehensive raising wages agenda. They must be committed to investing in a prosperous future for America. They must have an authentic voice and a commitment, from the candidate down through his or her economic team, to see this agenda through to completion.

Read the full address here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Worker Wins Update: April Showers Bring Big Wins for Workers

Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Harvard Hotel Workers Make Smart Choice to Organize: Following a two year campaign, workers at the Soldiers Field Road DoubleTree Hotel, located in a building owned by Harvard, voted to organize with UNITE HERE Local 26. The workers will join Harvard dining hall workers as well as Boston-area hotel staff in the local union.

Next Stop for Double Decker Bus Tour Guides: A Union: Workers at a double-decker bus tour company in New York City have voted to join Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100, fighting back against poor working conditions and pay cuts. Local 100 currently represents some 40,000 transit workers throughout New York City.

Casino Workers Go ‘All-In’ on Union: The cards at the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino will be dealt by union members after workers voted to join the National Gaming Workers Coalition, which includes UNITE HERE, UAW and Operating Engineers (IUOE).

Toady’s Lesson at Detroit Charter Schools: Forming a Union: Teachers from three Detroit charter schools have come together to file petitions to be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, a local union affiliated with the AFT.

Gawker Writers Submit Stories and Union Cards: Workers at Gawker Media announced that they will be forming a union with the Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO in New York City. Gawker writers cited need for a fair salary and stated clearly that “every workplace could use a union.”

Alaska Nurses Find the Right Prescription, Affiliate with AFT: In a move to strengthen the voices of nurses in Alaska, the Alaska Nurses Association Labor Program agreed to affiliate with AFT Nurses and Health Professionals. With this affiliation, AFT now represents 113,000 health care professionals across the country.

Rutgers Faculty Win Big in Classroom and at Bargaining Table: Nearly 4,700 full-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants signed a new contract protecting members from salary freezes, health care rate hikes and promising a raise in wages throughout the life of the contract. The contract, fought for by members of the American Association of University Professors–AFT, also will provide protections for about 7,000 graduate teaching assistants.

Howard University Physicians On-Call for Better Pay, Benefits: Resident physicians at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., have asked hospital officials to negotiate a new contract with their newly formed union after the National Labor Relations Board upheld the results of its January election last week.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Rana Plaza, 2 Years Later: Garment Workers Under Siege

April 24 is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,130 garment workers. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell reports that in the months after the 2013 tragedy, global outrage spurred much-needed changes, including the closing of dozens of unsafe factories, the adoption of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and, most significantly, the formation and recognition of workers’ unions by the Bangladeshi government.

But in recent months, those freedoms are increasingly rare, say garment workers and union leaders….Despite garment workers’ desire to join a union, they increasingly face barriers to do so, including employer intimidation, threatened or actual physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to registration. Regulators also seem unwilling to penalize employers for unfair labor practices.

In addition, thousands of workers still toil in unsafe factories. In the two years since the fire at Tazreen Fashions, at least 31 workers have died in garment factory fire incidents in Bangladesh, and more than 900 people have been injured (excluding Rana Plaza), according to Solidarity Center data.

Read the full story here, and on Wednesday be sure to check back with the Solidarity Center for stories from the survivors and about the lack of sufficient compensation for survivors and families of those killed.

Read more herehere and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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On Equal Pay Day, Mind the Gap, All $431,000 of It

Today, Equal Pay Day, marks the day when women workers close the 2014 pay gap, and that wage gap is huge. Women, on average, earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men’s wages and that adds up to more than $10,800 a year and more than $400,000 over a career.

A new report finds that wage gap is even wider for mothers, especially single mothers and mothers of color, most of whom are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families.

The report, An Unlevel Playing Field: America’s Gender-Based Wage Gap, Binds of Discrimination and a Path Forward, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, finds mothers who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers who work full-time, year-round. Single mothers are paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And African American and Latina mothers suffer the biggest disparities, being paid just 54 cents and 49 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

At a time when women’s wages are essential to families and our economy, the persistence of the gender-based wage gap is doing real and lasting damage to women, families, communities and to our nation. It defies common sense that lawmakers are not doing more to stop gender discrimination in wages.

In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. But since then, Republican lawmakers have blocked votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

That legislation would strengthen penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers’ wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.

The bill was reintroduced last month by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who said:

Equal pay is not just a problem for women, but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, trying to get ahead, trying to achieve the American Dream and are getting a smaller paycheck than they have earned for their hard work.

Last April, President Obama signed two executive orders on equal pay, one that banned retaliation against employees of federal contractors for discussing their wages and another that instructed the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation. While these actions will help federal contractor employees, congressional action is needed to end gender-based pay discrimination for all workers.

Here are some other facts on unequal pay and the wage gap between men and women.

  • If the pay trends of the past five decades remain the same, it will take nearly another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity with men.
  • If women and men received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women and their families would be cut in half from 8.1% to 3.9%.
  • The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among nonunion workers.
  • Union women working full-time earn, on average, 90.6% of what their male peers earn.
  • The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for nonunion workers.
  • Paying women the same wage as their male peers would have added an additional $448 billion to the economy in 2012 or roughly 3% of the country’s GDP.
  • 62% of women who work in the private sector report that discussing pay at work is strongly discouraged or prohibited, making it harder for women to discover if they are missing out on wages they deserve.
  • Requiring employers to disclose employee pay rankings would allow women to know if they are being paid the same wage as comparable workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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NYU Grad Employees Ratify Historic Contract

New York University graduate employees—members of Graduate Student Organizing Committee UAW Local 2110—successfully capped a struggle that began at the turn of this century when they ratified a five year contract with the university. Lily Defriend, a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department said:

This contract will make a real difference in our lives here at NYU and will raise the bar for private-sector graduate working people nationally.

The 1,200 teaching and research graduate employees ratified the agreement with a 99% vote in favor, making NYU the only private university in the country with a unionized graduate employee workforce.

The agreement makes substantial gains in wages, health care (including a 90% subsidy toward individual coverage and first-time support for dependent coverage), child care benefits and tuition waivers. In addition, it doubles the starting wage to $20 per hour over the life of the five-year agreement for workers at NYU’s Polytechnic School of Engineering, who perform and support cutting-edge research.

After becoming the first group of private-university graduate workers to successfully unionize in 2000, the UAW won a groundbreaking contract at NYU. In 2005, the university withdrew recognition, hiding behind a Bush-era National Labor Relations Board decision stripping graduate employees of the right to collective bargaining.

Undeterred, the workers at NYU fought an eight-year battle for recognition, and the university agreed to recognize the UAW once again, subject to an election conducted by the American Arbitration Association, in which NYU remained neutral. The workers voted 98.4% in favor of being represented by the UAW in December 2013.

Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, said:

They did not back down after being stripped of their bargaining rights in 2005. Their commitment to justice will have a huge impact on the working lives of teaching and research assistants throughout the university. This victory has already inspired other private-sector graduate employees to organize.

The UAW represents more than 45,000 academic workers across the U.S., including graduate employees at the University of Massachusetts, University of Connecticut, University of Washington, University of California and California State University.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Unions Are a Woman’s Best Friend

With National Women’s History Month behind us now, it’s still important to celebrate the great strides women have made over the past decades. It is equally important to remember how many women workers still don’t have the basic necessities they need to support themselves and their families. The labor movement views the struggle for women’s equality as a shared fight, especially considering women are the sole or primary breadwinners for 40% of families in the United States. Women of color, in particular, have a hard time getting good pay and benefits, and they make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers.

Nearly 7 million women have a voice on the job due to their union membership, and women in unions are more likely than their nonunion peers to have access to paid sick leave and family leave. Collective bargaining through unions also narrows the pay gap between men and women significantly. A typical woman union member earns $222 a week more than a nonunion woman and is far more likely to have health and retirement security. This puts upward pressure on wages and benefits throughout industries that are predominately female, many of which traditionally pay low wages. Every worker deserves to have protections on the job, and it is the goal of the labor movement to ensure that happens.

Recently I was in Chicago for the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Worker Summit, and I was inspired by how many young women I saw around me. Hundreds of young women came from across the country eager to learn and grow as leaders in the labor movement and to stand up for the rights of all workers. They were facilitating workshops, speaking on panels and leading their union brothers and sisters at demonstrations around the city in solidarity with local workers. Erica Clemons, a young worker with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), provided a snapshot into why it is so important for labor to be active in the fight for women’s rights. She said, “I’m a young organizer. A person of color. A mother. These identities matter to me. It’s important for the labor movement to understand unique struggles.”

Erica started out as a cashier at her local Kroger grocery store in Atlanta. After becoming a member of UFCW, she advanced through hard work and determination from cashier to a spot in the selective UFCW Gold Internship Program in Ohio, an intensive organizer training. Erica excelled in the program, and the organizing director of UFCW Local 881 took notice and offered her a job on the local’s organizing team. Now Erica works to help workers organize in grocery stores just like the one where she started out. She helped organize and lead hundreds of Next Up participants in the demonstration at a Food 4 Less grocery store last week in Chicago, advocating for higher wages. And in her spare time, she serves on the AFL-CIO’s National Young Worker Advisory Council.

The work that Erica and thousands of other union women are doing across the country offers a good reminder that if we work and stand together, achieving gender equality is possible for women all across the United States.

This is a cross-post from MomsRising.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Study Finds Union Mines Safer, More Productive Than Nonunion

Once again, a study has shown that unionized coal mines are not only safer places to work than nonunion mines, but that union miners produce more coal. The study, by SNL Energy, found that in 2013 unionized mines in northern and central Appalachia produced about 94,091 tons of coal per injury versus 71,110 in nonunion mines, despite research suggesting that unionized miners are more likely to report injuries that have occurred on the job.

The SNL report notes that its findings follow a 2012 study authored by Stanford University labor regulation expert Alison Morantz and found that unionization is associated with a 13% to 30% drop in traumatic injuries and a 28% to 83% drop in fatalities in data from 1993 to 2010.

When it comes to production, union miners produced about 17% more coal per employee an hour than workers at nonunion mines in 2013 and 16% more last year.

In an article on the study on its website, Phil Smith, a spokesman for the Mine Workers (UMWA), told SNL Energy:

The union was formed 125 years ago by miners seeking to improve their pay and working conditions, including making the mines safer places to work. Those needs still exist today. [SNL Energy's] data demonstrates that union mines are safer mines; others have found similar results.

Both Smith and Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney who specializes in mining laws and coal mine safety, pointed to the protections in a union contract, including the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation and a worker-elected and empowered mine safety committee, as key factors in the better safety records at union mines. Oppegard said:

You work in a nonunion mine, you pretty much do what you’re told to do, including risking life and limb, or else you’re going to lose your job….At a nonunion mine, they don’t have that same cushion to try to resolve issues at the job site.

Read the full story here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working Families Launch ‘We Rise’ Campaign to Train and Organize Immigrant Workers

The AFL-CIO will launch on Tuesday a national immigration training plan, “We Rise!” (¡Adelante!). It is designed to reach, mobilize and organize immigrant workers in their workplaces and in their communities. The three-day kick-off event in Washington, D.C., will include trainings, workshops and strategy sessions designed to empower immigrants and their allies to lead campaigns that will enhance the rights of all workers. The event will include more than 200 union members, leaders and staff from 23 unions, and activists and community leaders from 26 states across the nation.

This practical, hands-on training will provide labor union members, activists and leaders with all the tools necessary to realize the promise of the recent executive actions on immigration to improve standards for all working people and strengthen communities where our members work and live. Participants will be trained to assist as many eligible workers as possible to gain rights on the job by applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs and to encourage qualified legal permanent residents to become U.S. citizens.

The specific objectives of the training sessions are:

  • Build a shared understanding of what immigration implementation means for workers and the labor movement.
  • Identify the strategies, tools and resources necessary for successful implementation.
  • Generate a field plan for immigration implementation.
  • Create a national network of engaged unions and community partners.
  • Launch the We Rise! Initiative.

Scheduled to join the AFL-CIO in the training is a diverse array of organizations, including: the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee, AFSCME, AFT, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Clean Carwash Campaign, Dream Team Los Angeles, Education Austin, Farmworker Justice, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Laborers (LIUNA), National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Not1More, NPNA, the Orange County Labor Federation, PICO, Puente, the United Domestic Workers of America (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and United We Dream.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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