In the past decade, temporary work arrangements grew steadily in the United States—20% since 2003. In 2013, there were 2,673,800 workers employed in the temp industry, which accounted for 24% of all job growth in the United States during the tepid economic recovery from 2009 to 2012. Often these workers perform the same work as permanent employees for lower wages, little training, no benefits and no promise of security. Unfortunately,according to a recent ProPublica investigation, the United States lags far behind other industrialized countries in labor protections for temporary workers. Of 43 “developed and emerging economies” tracked by the OECD, the United States ranks near the bottom, at 41st, for temporary worker protections.
While temporary work and other forms of independent contracting offer some workers desired flexibility, most temporary workers are caught in a precarious gap in labor protections and lack needed workplace stability. From low-wage maintenance work to highly paid tech jobs, the growth of temporary work has pervaded the labor market. The AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees reports more than 7.7 million self-employed and temporary workers are employed in management, professional and related occupations. Temp workers at Microsoft, for example, have long protested their “permatemp” status at the company, where many have worked for years receiving less pay for the same work as regular employees, with no benefits or paid time off and little hope of moving into regular employment.
On the other end of the wage spectrum, workers often toil in unsafe conditions with little training, as companies outsource entire segments of their blue-collar workforce to staffing firms. Workers who are cheated out of wages or have safety complaints frequently do not know where to turn, as their true employer is masked through numerous subcontracting relationships throughout a supply chain. Some 542 temp workers were fatally injured on the job in 2011; Latino temp workers represented 28% of those deaths.
Immigrant workers are especially susceptible to abuse, as they may be unaware of their labor rights or fear immigration enforcement. Many have reported having to pay fees to fly-by-night staffing firms that charge workers for van transport to unknown job sites. Immigrant workers also frequently access the labor market through international labor recruiters, who have been known to charge high fees, confiscate travel documents, issue threats and commit other forms of abuse that have even resulted in human trafficking.
The growth of temp work arrangements is the product of deliberate corporate practices and policies that have been implemented within the context of privatization, deregulation and flexibilization of labor laws. There are numerous efforts to reverse these trends. The International Labor Organization is examining temporary work this summer as part of an effort to encourage the transition from the informal to formal economy. National governments, too, have made efforts well beyond the United States to combat exploitative temp work arrangements. For example:
- At least 12 countries have banned companies from hiring temps in dangerous industries or to do hazardous work.
- Unlike the United States, about three-quarters of the countries tracked by OECD require temp agencies to register or become licensed before they can begin sending out workers.
- European Union countries mandated that temp workers receive equal pay and working conditions to employees hired directly by the company;
- Nearly half of the 43 countries in the OECD study restrict the duration of temp assignments, ranging from three months to three years.
In the United States, workers have won promising gains in an uphill battle. Through collective action, taxi workers, day laborers, home care workers and adjunct faculty have improved their working conditions and formed collective representation on the job. At the state level in the United States, workers have pushed lawmakers to pass laws targeting employee misclassification, including laws that assign joint responsibility to temp agencies as employers, or forbid agreements where businesses know the agency does not have sufficient funds for all applicable regulations. At a time when inequality is at the top of the administration’s agenda, federal agencies and lawmakers must make every effort to reflect these good practices and extend worker protections to temp workers.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, Corporate Accountability, Jobs, Latino, misclassification, Rights At Work, safety, temporary workers
In yet another example of the powerlessness that individual workers face, a cook has been fired for expressing his disagreement with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s politics.
On Sunday, February 16th, 45-year-old Drew Swope, a cook at the Charlotte-N.C.-based Reid’s Fine Foods, decided to speak his mind when Gov. McCory patronized his workplace. Swope told McCrory, “thanks for nothing” and the governor allegedly became incensed. Shortly after berating Swope the governor and his security reported the incident to the store manager and owner.
The store’s owner argues that Swope wasn’t fired for insulting the Governor, instead he was fired for insulting a customer; but let’s be honest, would Swope have been fired for his comment had McCrory not been in a position of power? It’s doubtful.
In fact, this isn’t the first time that the governor has flexed his power to push an unfair agenda. In 2013 Gov. McCrory signed a bill severely limiting voting rights of North Carolina residents. Additionally McCrory declined a $2.3 billion Medicaid expansion, instigating several Moral Monday protests.
“Yet another North Carolinian has lost a job because of the McCrory administration – adding to its record of joblessness-creation. We wonder: Does Gov. McCrory plan to bring the full force of his political office to engage in power plays with every worker he comes across?” says Carolyn Smith, North Carolina State Director at Working America.
With that being said, let’s stop letting inadequate balances of power define how we treat our workers, and instead advocate for accountability and fairness for everyone.
Update: Charlotte Mayor, Pat Cannon has stepped in to help Swope find a new job. According to the News & Observer, Cannon says that he’s not trying to get in the middle of the controversy, instead he’s doing what he can to help one of his constituents find work.
“The mayor of Charlotte, Pat Cannon, just called me and asked me to send him my resume and he’ll see if he can help me find a position,” Swope wrote on his Facebook page.
Tags: North Carolina, Pat McCrory, Rights At Work
The AFL-CIO Executive Council is meeting in Texas this week as a sign of confidence that the southern state has great potential for workers who are organizing on the job. A Houston Chronicle profile takes a look at efforts in Texas and goals for broader organizing efforts in the South:
The AFL-CIO executive [council] has come to Texas, setting its sights on what has been inhospitable terrain and betting workers in the state can be drawn to organized labor’s efforts to raise wages.
Buoyed by the growth of the energy industry along the Gulf Coast and fortified with organizing wins at poultry plants and manufacturing parts makers, the heads of some of the nation’s largest labor unions are meeting in Texas for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hilton Americas-Houston.
Members of the executive [council] hope the labor federation can continue to notch victories across the South, either through traditional organizing or public campaigns to boost the minimum wage.
They are meeting in a city where, less than a decade ago, labor celebrated its first large-scale victory in a quarter-century when a union once affiliated with the AFL-CIO organized the janitors who clean the largest office buildings.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., said the federation wants to send the message that the labor federation is expanding its horizons to new places and to new people.
“Our focus is on raising wages,” Trumka said, claiming during a news conference Monday that “everyone from the pope to the president” is embracing the global efforts.
Read the full article.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, houston, organizing, Richard Trumka, Rights At Work, Texas
After unprecedented interference from politicians and out-of-state extremists like Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted 712–626 against representation by theUAW that would have led to the establishment of a works council, the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the workers stood up to “enormous odds to try to form their own union and to create an historic new model of workplace governance.” He adds:
Unconscionably, what should have been a local workplace decision by workers and management was turned into an experiment in new forms of right-wing zealotry over issues having nothing to do with how stakeholders decided for themselves the best way to build automobiles and create a strong Chattanooga community.
While Volkswagen had agreed to remain neutral, Republican lawmakers and right-wing groups mounted a large-scale anti-union attack. UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s southern organizing, says:
Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee.
Says UAW President Bob King:
While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union.
But, make no mistake, the closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, auto workers, chattanooga, collective bargaining, Grover Norquist, Richard Trumka, Rights At Work, Tennessee, uaw
The following is a guest post from Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers. It originally appeared on The Huffington Post
The GOP is all about freedom—for corporations, that is. Republicans believe, for example, that business should be free from the kind of government regulation that would prevent chemical companies from spewing poison into West Virginia drinking water.
When it comes to freedom for workers, though, the GOP is all about squelching that. Republicans believe workers should not be free to form labor unions, that they should not enjoy freedom of association, that they should be denied their right to collective action.
Usually, the GOP explains this as picking sides. In one corner, the corporation sits whining that it doesn’t want unions pressuring executives to more equitably share the fruits of workers’ labor. In the other corner, workers assert they have the right to organize and demand better pay and treatment. In this match up, Republicans always bet on the deep-pocketed corporation. When there’s no fight, when both executives and workers want a union, Republicans still oppose workers’ rights. That’s because organized labor has always stood for everything the GOP hates: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the 40-hour workweek. Republicans denounce workers exercising their right to concerted action, at the workplace and in Washington.
Volkswagen is the perfect example. Republicans are blasting VW (actually criticizing a corporation!) because VW is [not opposing] an attempt by the UAW to organize the German automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant.
VW wants to establish works councils at its Chattanooga plant, similar to those it has in Germany. In Europe, these groups of white- and blue-collar workers collaborate on issues such as plant rules, work hours and vacations. In VW’s experience, cooperating with employees through these councils increases productivity and profitability.
Because the councils discuss labor issues such as work hours, VW and the UAW have determined that to legally establish them in Chattanooga, the plant must be unionized.
This is intolerable to the GOP. Two of Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, insist they know how to run an auto company better than VW. Despite this successful international auto company’s actual business experience with works councils, these GOP politicians say that they know what’s best, that they just know unionization won’t be good for VW.
A union-hating group, the National Right to Work (For Less) Committee, traveled to Chattanooga from its headquarters near Washington, D.C., with a carpetbag full of cash for legal challenges to the unionization effort. And GOP crank Grover Norquist sent his Washington, D.C.-based organized labor-hating group, Center for Worker Freedom (To Work For Less), to Tennessee to thwart the Chattanooga workers’ right to unionize.
VW objected to the interference. CEO of VW Chattanooga Frank Fischer asked the outside agitators to stop, saying, “Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”
They ignored him—disregarding a CEO, a figure before whom Republicans typically grovel! That is how much Republicans hate unions.
They refuse to believe what VW is saying, that works councils are valuable management tools, despite evidence that the model already succeeds in the United States.
Just last month, the Jobs with Justice Education Fund released a study titled, “Improving Government Through Labor-Management Collaboration and Employee Ingenuity.” The research shows that government saved millions and improved service when it established collaborative working relationships with unionized public workers.
For example, the report says, such collaboration helped the Federal Aviation Administration save millions when it installed new technology at air traffic control centers. A division of the Navy that designs and builds ships used labor-management councils to improve productivity and quality.
Similarly, Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast and blog, wrote in The New York Times last week about a cooperative relationship between Harley-Davidson and the two unions that represent workers at its York, Pa., assembly plant. They are the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW).
Before Wall Street crashed the economy, inefficiency was part of the all-American motorcycle company’s charm, Davidson wrote. But during the great recession, high costs and slow turnaround threatened to bankrupt the icon. Harley rejected the paths of too many predecessor manufacturers—robots, union-busting and off-shoring. Instead, it chose to actively cooperate with its highly paid, exceedingly skilled and deeply devoted workers and redesign its plant to increase productivity. Workers accepted layoffs and pay freezes to save the company.
On the day Davidson visited the plant, one worker solved several production problems, saving Harley millions of dollars. Millions. The turnaround earned Harley an Industry Week Best Plants award last year. Davidson noted that while fewer than 10 percent of American manufacturing workers are unionized, more than 30 percent of the finalists for the Industry Week award are.
The Jobs with Justice report says the cooperative examples it uncovered demonstrated “the power of partnerships that, if adopted by comparable agencies and unions, will help transform antagonistic, outmoded and inefficient labor relations models.”
But Republicans Norquist, Haslam and Corker are doing their darndest to make sure that can’t happen at VW in Chattanooga.
There, Matt Patterson, who heads a Norquist puppet group opposing the UAW, explained to The New York Times the real reason the Republicans are fighting the UAW: “Unions are very political, the UAW is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”
There it is. The truth about the GOP’s opposition to unions. Republicans hate that unions are organizations of workers who traditionally have fought to ensure that their government serves workers with programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs that Americans love and that they’re willing to pay taxes to support.
This week, 1,600 VW assembly workers will vote on whether to be represented by the UAW. They have the right to self-determination without GOP carpetbagger interference.
Tags: Bill Haslam, Bob Corker, chattanooga, collective bargaining, Grover Norquist, Rights At Work, Tennes, uaw, USW, Volkswagen
While 11.3% of U.S. workers officially belong to unions, the labor movement is much larger. The movement isn’t limited to official union members and the last year showed that, as workers marched side by side, union members or not, to fight back against injustices championed by corporate interests that are out of touch with America’s working families. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the federation’s constitutional convention in Los Angeles, “Politicians and employers want to divide us; they try it every single day. They want to tell us who can be in our movement and who can’t, and we can’t let them.”
An article at The American Prospect describes the trend of new ways workers are standing up for their rights:
Those government union membership statistics, however, don’t capture an entire swath of new, exciting and emerging labor activists—’alt-labor’ activists—whom alarmed employers would like to see regulated by the same laws that apply to unions. Yet, before we regulate them as unions, shouldn’t we first count them as unions?
Who isn’t being counted in those official numbers? A lot of people:
- Striking fast-food workers who are calling for a $15-an-hour wage.
- Walmart workers who went on strike for Black Friday.
- Day laborers who have joined one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide.
- Restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers and domestic workers organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions.
- Millions of members of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
These numbers also don’t count people like the college athletes who are seeking to unionize and the many workers who are trying to form unions but are thwarted by employers or weakened labor law.
Some of the extremists opposed to these groups want them limited in their ability to organize, while not wanting to count them in the official numbers, so labor looks weaker. As the Prospect notes:
However, in a 21st century economy in which collective bargaining has been so severely weakened by structural changes and the roll back in workers’ rights, these new labor activists represent an important frontier for people concerned about worker power and economic inequality writ large. You know that workers are on to something when employers start to get nervous. It turns out the low union membership statistics may not be as good a measure of labor’s future as employers would hope.
And the reality behind those official statistics, and the rise of alt-labor, should be heartening to supporters of working families.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, black friday, collective bargaining, fast food, labor, minimum wage, Richard Trumka, Rights At Work, Walmart, Working America
After months of organizing, fighting, advocating, and waiting, the NLRB has set a date for a secret-ballot union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee for February 12, to 14.
Chattanooga has the only major Volkswagen plant in the United States, employing 1,600 workers. And it’s unique: At all other VW plants worldwide, workers have the opportunity to join German-style “works councils”–committees of blue collar workers, white collar employees, and representatives from management who discuss plant conditions.
The Chattanooga plant has been the site of a high-dollar proxy battle, drawing the United Auto Workers and national anti-union giants like Grover Norquist, who set up an organization called the Center for Worker Freedom to oppose the organizing effort.
But unlike most other union fights, Volkswagen management does not oppose the UAW’s organizing:
Scott Wilson, a VW spokesman, said: “Volkswagen values the rights of its employees in all locations to representation of their interests. In the United States, it is only possible to realize this in conjunction with a union. This is a decision that ultimately lies in the hands of the employees. For this reason, we have begun a dialogue with the U.A.W.”
That puts the outside forces in the odd position of criticizing both the union organizers and the Volkswagen management. Don Jackson, who until 2012 headed up American manufacturing for Volkswagen, has become an outspoken opponent of what his former employer is doing in Chattanooga. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said it was “beyond belief,” VW would allow a union election, saying they would become a “laughingstock” if the UAW succeeded.
AFL-CIO President Trumka dismissed the rantings from Corker and others. “Claims that union representation would make Tennessee a ‘laughingstock in the business world,’ or deter other companies from moving South are nothing more than attempts to hold on to a polarizing, unproductive ‘us vs. them’ status quo,” Trumka wrote in the Detoit News, “Volkswagen’s willingness to work collaboratively is a strong part of its success.”
It’s clear that this fight isn’t just about one plant. “It seems that both the business community and labor are seeing what’s happening at VW as a pivotal moment in the Southern automotive business and labor history,” says Vanderbilt University labor expert Daniel B. Cornfield.
Luckily, the decision will ultimately be in the hands of the 1,600 workers who punch in every day at the Chattanooga plans. “For me to have a voice at the workplace would tremendously increase my chances of staying here,” said Seth Landis, an Electrical Rework Line Team Member at Chattanooga.
“I’m excited. I can’t wait,” said Paint Finish Team Member Tammy Flint. “I just can’t wait for this to get started, I’m ready for it.”
Voting begins February 12.
Tags: aflcio, Bob Corker, chattanooga, Germany, NLRB, organizing, Richard Trumka, Rights At Work, Tennessee, uaw, Volkswagen, works council
In a new weekly feature, we’ll be taking a look at the winners and losers of the week in the struggle for the rights of working families. The winner will be the person or organization that goes above and beyond to expand or protect the rights of working families, while the loser will be whoever went above and beyond to limit or deny those rights.
Winner of the Week: Kain Colter and the Northwestern University Football Players
College athletes, who balance a full-time school load with intense athletic workouts are some of the hardest-working people in the United States. Yet the NCAA says it has no responsibility to protect them from potentially deadly injuries, such as concussions, and allows players to lose educational opportunities if they get injured. Colter and a number of his teammates are standing up and saying they deserve better and are attempting to organize a union that would address these and other concerns.
Loser of the Week: Uintah, Utah, Elementary School District Official
A Utah elementary school district official apparently thought the best way to deal with parents who hadn’t given their kids enough lunch money was to order cafeteria workers to give those kids lunches and then take them away and throw them in the trash in front of everyone. Taking food away from children is bad enough, but doing it in a publicly humiliating way is truly despicable. Poverty and hunger matter in the classroom.
Photo by Northwestern Wildcats on Facebook
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Education, football, hunger, Illinois, Northwestern, organizing, Rights At Work, sports, steelworkers, USW, Utah
Last year, the Minnesota legislature came very close to raising their state minimum wage, which is one of the lowest in the country. The House passed a strong bill, H.F. 92, which would’ve raised the minimum wage to $9.50 and indexed it to inflation. Unfortunately, it stalled in the Senate.
Luckily, Minnesota’s two-year legislative cycle gives workers another chance at a raise. As soon as the session starts in February, the Senate could pass H.F. 92 and send it to Governor Mark Dayton for his signature.
But some DFL legislators are considering another route: combining the minimum wage increase with a package of other workplace reforms under the banner of the Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014.
“Minnesota’s economy is headed in the right direction, but not everyone is sharing in the gains. And when you dig underneath the first layer of economic challenges facing Minnesotans, we find that the people struggling to stay or step-in to the middle class are disproportionately women,” said Speaker of the House Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), “The Women’s Economic Security Act aims to break down barriers to economic progress so that women–and all Minnesotans–have a fair opportunity to succeed.”
The Act combines a number of other provisions aimed at helping working women:
Private companies contracted by the state would be required to report on pay equity among their workers. The state’s Parental Leave Act, which guarantees workers six unpaid weeks off for the arrival of a new child, would be expanded. It would encourage women to enter non-traditional, high-wage occupations and boost small businesses owned by women. And it would bolster existing protections for victims of domestic violence.
Legislators in Nebraska and New York are also taking the route of a comprehensive package rather than a standalone minimum wage increase.
Conventional wisdom has held that men care about “pocketbook” issues like wages and taxes, while women are primarily motivated by so-called “women’s issues” like reproductive health and schools. But given the wide gender gaps in wages, salary, and overall workplace treatment, even as the number of female breadwinners increases, that approach is fading.
64 percent of minimum wage workers are women, and American women overall earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. 40 percent of all private sector workers, particularly in the female-heavy service industry, can’t take a single paid sick day. Working women caring for children face unique challenges like the rising cost of private childcare, and the percentage of women who are primary or co-breadwinners in their household is at an all-time high.
In Minnesota, whatever tactic is used to increase wages, the current stumbling block appears to be Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk (DFL-Cook). Sen. Bakk lead Senators to pass a bill increasing the minimum wage to a meager $7.75 last year, and his statements indicate a hesitance around a higher increase.
Tags: Mark Dayton, minimum wage, Minnesota, Paid Sick Days, Rights At Work, Thomas Bakk, women
Politico Magazine released a comprehensive report comparing all 50 states using 14 different indicators of quality of life. In their ranking, the five bottom states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama) are all so-called “right to work” states.
Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.
Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.
The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.
As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.
A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)
But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work” states rank in the bottom 20.
The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.
As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.
Tags: Alabama, ALEC, arkansas, louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Right to Work, Rights At Work, Tennessee, Vermont, wages