Wisconsin Republicans Take Another Step Toward Silencing Workers and Decreasing Wages

Late Wednesday night, the Wisconsin state Senate voted 17–15 to advance a “right to work” bill that has been widely criticized as harmful to the working families of the state. Thousands rallied outside the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday in opposition to the legislation, as similar laws have been shown to have widespread negative effects in the other states that have passed them. Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.

Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, expressed dismay over Republicans ignoring the will of the people:

Republican senators clearly weren’t there to listen to their constituents or vote in the best interests of all Wisconsinites. With out-of-state special interests calling the shots, Wisconsin citizens get left behind. Right to work is a continuation of the destructive policies of the Scott Walker administration that have cost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity.

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale echoed those comments:

Despite hours and hours of testimony on how right to work will lower wages, increase workplace deaths and erode the base of the middle class by crippling the ability of workers to team up and join together through their unions for a strong voice in the workplace, Republican senators rammed right to work legislation through the Senate in a disheartening move to democracy.

Wisconsin’s working families aren’t allowing Walker and his allies to silence them. They will rally again on Saturday at noon to make sure their voices are heard and will be out in force for a scheduled committee meeting on Tuesday and an expected floor vote in the Assembly on Thursday.

State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) summed up the effects of the bill: “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.” UAW member John Drew condemned the legislation as “a political attack on labor, dressed up as an issue of worker freedom. They want to beat us down, brothers and sisters. This is politics, pure and simple.”

Republican leaders couldn’t even convince all of the members of their own party of the merits of the legislation. State Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R) voted against the bill: “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.” He was the only Republican who stood and spoke in support of the legislation. The public wasn’t convinced, either. More than 1,750 Wisconsinites submitted comments or registered to speak against the bill at the hearing. Only 25 were in favor.

Unions representing Wisconsin’s professional athletes also weighed in, opposing right to work. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a strong statement:

The NFL Players Association stands together with the working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against current attacks against their right to stand together as a team.

Devoted food and commercial workers who spend their Sundays servicing our players and fans at Lambeau Field will have their well-being and livelihood jeopardized by right to work. Governor Scott Walker may not value these vital employees but, as union members, we do. We understand how devastating it would be if they lost the ability to have their workplace conditions and wages guaranteed through collective bargaining. We do not have to look any further than our own [collective bargaining agreement] to see that a band of workers, joined together as a union, can overcome decades of poor workplace conditions and drastically improve pensions and benefits.

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said:

The Major League Baseball Players Association stands with our brothers and sisters in organized labor and deplores the current attempts in Wisconsin to undermine the collective voices of working people by seeking passage of so-called “right to work” legislation. We are proud to be among the ranks of labor unions that negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for their members, sitting across the table from management as equal parties under the federal law that guarantees the right to union representation. This state legislation is nothing more than an obvious attempt to undermine those rights and that power.

The National Hockey League Players Association issued a statement as well:

The current bill would impede the ability of working families in Wisconsin to achieve fair collective bargaining agreements with good wages and appropriate on the job protections. “Right to work” is not about freedom, it is about empowering employers at the expense of the employees. Again, we urge a No vote on the current legislation.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state where extremists are pushing right to work legislation in an attempt to silence working families. New Mexico’s legislature is headed down the same destructive path as are several other states.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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USW Oil Workers Expand Strike, Cite Safety Concerns

Photo via USW Facebook page

Oil workers at three more refineries and a chemical plant joined the United Steelworkers’ (USW’s) unfair labor practice strike against the oil industry over the weekend. With workers and plant safety a major concern, USW President Leo W. Gerard said:

The industry’s refusal to meaningfully address safety issues through good faith bargaining gave us no other option but to expand our work stoppage.

Some 1,350 workers are employed at the four facilities, bringing the number of striking workers to about 6,550 at 14 and the chemical plant.

The new strike sites are the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur, Texas—a 50-50 joint venture between Shell Oil Co. (American subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell) and Saudi Refining Inc. (subsidiary of Saudi Aramco)—Motiva’s two Louisiana refineries in Convent and Norco, as well as the Shell chemical plant in Norco.

The union is bargaining for new labor agreements to cover some 30,000 workers throughout the oil industry at 65 refineries and hundreds of pipelines, terminals, petrochemical plants and other facilities.

USW Vice President Thomas Conway says:

We’re committed to reaching a settlement that works for both parties. But adequate staffing levels, worker fatigue and other important safety issues must be addressed.

The issue of refinery safety was reinforced last week with an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., earlier this week that injured four workers and shook homes for miles around.

Click here to sign a petition to oil industry management and federal, state and local officials supporting the striking workers in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Collective Action Pays Off, Just Look at These 24 Hours

Collective Action Pays Off, Just Look at These 24 Hours

In 24 hours starting late Wednesday, workers who have been standing together in collective action scored three major victories.  Walmart workers got a raise, Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) members settled their strike with FairPoint, and United Steelworkers made safety at oil refinery plants a national issue.

Says AFL-CIO Communications Director Eric Hauser:

One 24-hour period shows how much progress can be made when workers come together to speak with one voice. Collective action must be at the heart of the growing discussion about raising wages.  Only when workers pool their power can they make progress that benefits not just union members but all workers and entire communities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Steps Up Attacks on Working Families

Not content to just verbally attack working families, as he did in his recent State of the State address, new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has taken action to strip rights from workers. He signed an executive order that prevents public employee unions from collecting fair share fees from nonunion workers. He also has hired a legal team to pursue a federal court ruling that the fees are unconstitutional.

While the law requires public employee unions in Illinois to represent all workers in collective bargaining efforts, fair share fees make sure that nonunion workers pay for that representation. Rauner argues that fair share fees are being used for political activity, but local unions dispute that claim and say that Rauner’s move is “a blatantly illegal abuse of power.”

Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said Rauner’s action was based on “a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”

Writing on Huffington Post, political organizer and strategist Robert Creamer said:

Since unions—and collective bargaining—are the major weapons everyday people have to raise their wages, his assault on unions is a direct attack on the middle class and its future in America.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bayard Rustin

Black History Month Labor Profiles: Bayard Rustin

During Black History Month, we will be profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of African Americans and working families. We’ll highlight both important leaders of the past and those who are continuing the legacy of those strong leaders who laid the foundation for the present. First up, we take a look at Bayard Rustin.

Rustin served the trade union and civil rights movements as a brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer. In the face of his accomplishments, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten and fired from leadership positions because he was an openly gay man in a severely homophobic era. He conceived the coalition of liberal, labor and religious leaders who supported passage of the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of the 1960s and, as the first executive director of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, he worked closely with the labor movement to ensure African American workers’ rightful place in the House of Labor.

One of Rustin’s most notable moments came when he was tapped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event for which he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Organized during a two-month period, Rustin helped create what would be the largest protest in America’s history at that point. Rustin has been referred to as the “most important civil rights leader you’ve never heard of” and a key mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.

The manual that was handed out by Rustin and other leaders of the march made it clear that economic and workers’ rights were an integral part of the fight for civil rights for African Americans. The list of demands central to the march included a massive job training and placement program with a living wage, a national minimum wage that gave all Americans a decent standard of living an expanded Fair Labor Standards Act and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act that would prohibit discrimination not only by the government, but by employers and unions, too.

“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” —Bayard Rustin

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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If Walmart’s Anti-Retaliation Policy Is True, Tell Walmart to Discipline Managers Who Target Workers for Speaking Out

If Walmart’s Anti-Retaliation Policy Is True, Tell Walmart to Discipline Managers Who Target Workers for Speaking Out

Our Walmart members launched a campaign Wednesday calling on Walmart to uphold its publicly stated anti-retaliation policy against workers who speak out for change, better pay and full-time hours. Our Walmart says that many Walmart managers have been illegally spying on, disciplining and even firing workers who spoke out during demonstrations and Black Friday protests and strikes.

The group is calling on Walmart to either discipline those managers or own up to its anti-worker policy. A post on the Making Change at Walmart blog says:

Despite Walmart’s publicly stated anti-retaliation policy, the company has allowed these managers to get away with targeting workers who exercise their rights. These managers have upended the lives of workers, leaving many with no answer as to where money for rent or the next grocery visit will come from.

You can help support the fired and disciplined workers who are fighting back. Click here to see which store managers Our Walmart claims have been breaking the law and then sign the worker petition telling Walmart U.S. Labor Relations Manager Vice President Vicky Dawson to uphold Walmart’s policy and immediately discipline or fire these managers who have been involved in trying to illegally silence workers.

Also, on Wednesday, Mother Jones presented the story of 26-year-old Kiana Howard, who says she was fired from a Sacramento, Calif., Walmart, for taking part in the 2014 Black Friday strike. Read Walmart Cut My Hours, I Protested, and They Fired Me.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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County ‘Right to Work’ Drive Seems to Be Fizzling in the Bluegrass State

Union-busters bragged that “right to work” ordinances would be on the books in 30 of Kentucky’s 120 counties by Jan. 31.

“They have fallen well short of their goal,” says Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

Warren County passed a right to work ordinance in December. Since, only four more counties have followed. Ordinances have passed on first reading in three others. Of the group, only Warren and Hardin counties don’t border Tennessee, a right to work state.

Londrigan says the state line counties “are low hanging fruit” that “seem to be more susceptible to right to work proponents’ lies about how they would get all those jobs from employers who are purportedly setting up shop just on the other side of the Tennessee border as if they were maquiladoras along the Mexican border.”

Grassroots opposition by union members and union allies statewide has helped stall the right to work drive, says Londrigan.

Counties the right to work supporters assumed would jump on board have suddenly backed off.

Londrigan says two other factors also have helped: a federal lawsuit filed by nine unions against the Hardin County ordinance—which could be applied to other right to work ordinances—and an opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway that county right to work ordinances are unconstitutional.

Also, the state AFL-CIO has sent hefty packets of information telling the truth about right to work to judge-executives and county attorneys across the state.

Meanwhile, Kentucky union members are showing up at fiscal court meetings to challenge right to work advocates from in-state and out-of-state groups, Londrigan says.

We have sent a strong message to the counties that organized labor will be fighting this plague in every corner of the commonwealth.

While the legal action in federal district court in Louisville and the attorney general’s opinion have prompted some county officials to hesitate on right to work, other county officials have told unions that they won’t pass a right to work ordinance regardless of how the suit turns out, according to Londrigan.

But it is extremely important that we stay engaged so that we have the necessary information to defeat this anti-worker, anti-union onslaught.

Londrigan says Bluegrass State unions have let the union-busters:

know that the Kentucky labor movement isn’t going to roll over for them and that we are never going to stop fighting for economic, political and social justice.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Tell the Montgomery County Council to Pass a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights

Tell the Montgomery County Council to Pass a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights

Taxi drivers in Montgomery County, Md., work long hours and make barely above the minimum wage because the companies they work for charge them tens of thousands of dollars in fees each month. Fed up with this situation, these workers have proposed a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights that would make sure drivers are paid a living wage, that they have basic workplace protections and are able to give their customers the best service possible. And they are working to get the County Council to pass the bill, which also would update the outdated dispatch system to improve service and convenience for riders and regulate companies like Uber.

In August, members of Montgomery County Professional Drivers Union (MCPDU) voted to affiliate with National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA). Taxi drivers in Montgomery County are labeled as independent contractors. Because of their independent status, the more than 800 licensed taxi drivers in Montgomery County are not protected by any wage and hour laws or workers’ compensation laws and have no health insurance, disability insurance or any form of retirement benefits.

MCPDU President Peter Ibik explains the need for the bill:

I’ve been a taxi driver for more than 16 years, and I work in Montgomery County, Md. I love my job, but it’s getting harder and harder to support my family by doing it.

In Montgomery County, like in a lot of other places across the country, taxi drivers have to pay a lot of excessive fees that the companies we work for, like Barwood Taxi, impose on us. These fees can be nearly $35,000, which means, by the time we get our paycheck, many of us barely make minimum wage even after working 16-hour days. But it doesn’t have to be that way….

The Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights is the right thing to do for everyone in Montgomery County. For drivers, many who work and live in the county, it would rein in the out of control fees we need to pay in order to do our job. It also would make sure we had protections against company managers who can now fire us without cause; and it would give us a voice, as workers, to hold companies accountable.

But it’s not only good for drivers like me. It would be good for riders like you, too. High fees have meant customers get saddled with higher costs, but this bill would stop that from happening. It also would ensure that every driver in Montgomery County was experienced and professional and that companies like Uber were regulated and played by the same rules as other taxi and limo services….

It’s a win-win for everyone. We just need to make sure that council members recognize that, too, and don’t give in to taxi company CEOs and lobbyists who are just looking to make as much money as they can off the backs of drivers.

Send a message to the members of the Montgomery County Council now.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Drama Behind Reality TV Cameras Puts Producers on the Line

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This is a cross-post from the Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council’s Union City.

Inhumanly long hours, cruelty, frayed nerves. And that’s just behind the cameras at reality shows. “It’s scary and nerve-wracking,” says Sevita Qarshi, a producer walking the line Thursday outside the Realscreen conference at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Qarshi has worked on a number of reality TV shows and says that the working conditions for the men and women producing the popular programs are just as dramatic as those in front of the cameras.

It’s just awful. Incredibly long hours, many of them unpaid, no sick days, no health insurance, no job security and constant stress.

The target of Thursday’s picket lines, organized by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), is ITV Studios, a U.K.-owned television production company. The WGAE has successfully organized six major production companies and is fighting to win a contract with ITV, one of the conference sponsors, which is refusing to sign a deal with the WGAE even though the employees voted to organize four years ago.

The action was part of the industry-wide campaign to organize some 2,000 writers and producers of reality and nonfiction TV programming in New York City. Said WGAE Director of Organizing Justin Molito, as picketers chanted nearby:

Reality and nonfiction TV employees are victims of rampant wage theft and, in many cases, receive no health benefits at all. Unfortunately, this sort of freelance precarious labor is spreading into more and more industries.

“We get to work with a lot of great people,” said Qarshi, “but ITV wants more for less, and everybody’s overworked and stressed out.” Winning a union “would mean we have rights.” She added:

It would stop the intimidation, and help us feel appreciated for our hard work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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18,000 California Nurses Win Stronger Patient Care, Workplace Protections in New Kaiser Pact

NNU photo

Some 18,000 California registered nurses, members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU), who work at 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics are voting this week on a new contract. The agreement, reached after months of negotiations, will give the RNs a stronger voice on patient care and provides breakthrough improvements in workplace protections.

The union also called off a scheduled two-day strike this week against Kaiser Permanente.

CNA/NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro praised “the unity of Kaiser RNs and their devotion to assuring the highest level of quality care for patients as well as protections for the nurses who deliver that care.”

The unions said a key to the settlement was the agreement by Kaiser to establish a new committee of direct care RNs and nurse practitioners who will work with management to address the concerns RNs have about care standards in Kaiser facilities. Zenei Cortez, RN, co-president of the CNA, said:

We have an agreement that will strengthen the ability of Kaiser RNs to provide the optimal level of care our patients deserve, while establishing additional security for nurses.

In addition to the new patient care and workplace protection improvements, Kaiser has committed to hiring hundreds of new RNs and to providing training and employment opportunities for new RN graduates. The agreement also provides significant economic gains and additional retirement security.

Read more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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