Unions Celebrate LGBTQ Progress; Look Toward Continuing Challenges

In celebration of LGBTQ Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO and Pride At Work hosted a panel discussion Monday that surveyed efforts by various unions in advancing LGBTQ rights and discussed ongoing challenges that unions face in advancing the rights of LGBTQ workers. In particular, panel participants talked about the need of unions to become more inclusive, to increase efforts to protect transgender workers and to fight for state laws that prevent employers from firing workers for their sexual orientation or gender expression.

The panel was introduced by Carmen Berkley, AFL-CIO’s director of civil, human and women’s rights; moderated by Peggy Shorey, AFL-CIO’s director of state government relations and deputy director of government affairs; and included Shane Larson, legislative director for the Communications Workers of America (CWA); Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Tim Schlittner, assistant communications director for politics for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and Caniesha Washington, a program specialist in the women’s and fair practices department for AFGE.

Nipper said that while “the rate of progress now is extraordinary,” many activists have been working on these issues for 40 years, so while it’s good to see some of the recent changes, “we still have a lot more progress to make.” She noted that getting married is such a fundamental part of our culture that everyone should be able to marry.

She also noted that very few protections are in place for transgender Americans, even things as fundamental as obtaining simple documents such as birth certificates. Nipper, who is an ordained interfaith minister, said one of the biggest barriers we still face is the use of religious beliefs to discriminate even though there is nothing in religious teachings that call for the kinds of discrimination conservatives are attempting to impose.

Larson made the key point that it is still legal in many states to be fired for who you love, even in states where marriage equality exists. He noted that in most states, the strongest protection an LGBT worker can have against such discrimination is a union contract.

It is the responsibility of union leaders and activists to educate union members about LGBTQ issues, Washington said.

Schlittner said that it’s heartwarming to see how far we’ve come, noting the entire city block of labor unions marching in the World Pride Parade in Toronto last week, but that we must combine labor issues and LGBT issues as part of the broader movement and that while we stand on the shoulders of giants who did much work before us, we have a responsibility to finish that work. Change will start, he said, organically at the local level, but as the groundswell grows, leadership will hear the voices of the people and progress will follow.

Here are some tweets from the event:

Other labor organizations in attendance at the event included: Electrical Workers (IBEW), AFTWorking America, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), Freedom to Marry and AFSCME.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Students Call on The North Face and REI to Protect the Workers It Profits From

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and interns from Union Summer took action at a Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) store in Rockville, Md., last weekend to protest the retailer’s association with The North Face, a company that uses sweatshop labor in Bangladesh to produce its products. Nearly 2,000 workers in the factories in Bangladesh that North Face and other companies use have died in recent years because of unsafe workplace conditions. Watch the video to see the students in action.

Of particular note is an exchange in the middle of the video between one of the students and an REI employee who asks what the protests are about. She responds eloquently: “When you do business with people that disenfranchise people worldwide, then what does that say about your brand?”

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Union, Yes: Machinists Win Back-to-Back Organizing Drives in Texas

Exciting things are happening in Texas. The Machinists (IAM) today announced a second important organizing victory, this time for 475 office and clerical personnel employed by L3 at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) in Corpus Christi. This follows an April organizing win for 450 helicopter mechanics and technicians at the same facility.

The workers will join IAM Local 2916, which already has more than 500 members under six contracts at the adjoining Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, as well as the new members from April’s election.

“Our organizers were able to overcome the anti-union bias that is promoted in some southern states by providing concrete examples of what IAM contracts have already been secured for similar workers throughout the South,” said IAM Southern Territory Vice President Mark Blondin. “The IAM also has a history in the South that goes back 126 years, with well-established bargaining relationships in shipbuilding, defense and aerospace.”

Blondin credited the union’s months-long education campaign that preceded the vote for ensuring workers at L3 knew their legal rights and understood the benefits of working under a collective bargaining agreement.

“The office workers mirrored the mechanics in needing better wages and benefits,” said IAM Southern Territory Grand Lodge Representative Ramon Garcia, who helped coordinate the organizing effort with assistance from District Lodge 776 and district organizers Chub McCrory and Sylvia Zavala.

“This was a big team effort, with staff and volunteers involved from across our territory. It’s exciting to see workers’ views change about the need for a union,” said Blondin. “Across the South, we’re hearing from workers about the need for the voice on the job and better wages. We expect these latest wins to lead to increased organizing opportunities for the IAM.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The State of America’s Deadly Jobs, in 9 Charts

The State of America's Deadly Jobs, in 9 Charts

At The Huffington Post, Alissa Scheller has an article that includes nine charts that show very clearly the key takeaways from the AFL-CIO’s recent Death on the Job report.  These charts explore the issue of who the 4,600 who die on the job each year are and what is contributing to their deaths.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Denver SuperShuttle Drivers Oppose 30% Pay Cut

Denver SuperShuttle drivers.

Airport drivers who work for SuperShuttle in Denver are fighting back against the threat of reduced wages and lost jobs. The long battle began 5 years ago when drivers attempted to organize for a voice on the job with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) after the company hired new drivers and reduced pay for existing employees. The situation recently heated up as the drivers say the company stopped bargaining with them and imposed a new contract that cuts wages by 30% and forces them to reapply for their jobs.

SuperShuttle is owned by a French multinational corporation, Transdev, and the company has reportedly hired a lawyer with expertise in “union avoidance.” This is just the latest broadside in a drawn-out battle. In 2011, after a long process before a vote could even be held, 95% of the drivers voted to join CWA. Workers reported that SuperShuttle retaliated against pro-union employees in 2012 as negotiations began. A “final offer” from SuperShuttle was rejected by 93% of the drivers, and the company imposed a contract that is being challenged before the National Labor Relations Board as a violation of federal law. SuperShuttle’s most recent response is imposing the new contract with the 30% wage cuts.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said:

I recently had the opportunity to meet with these drivers in Denver. They are proud, hardworking fellow immigrants. We will not let this injustice go. The AFL-CIO is going to stand with and fight with these workers for justice.

The drivers are speaking out against the new contract.  Noureddine Berezqi, who has been with SuperShuttle for 16 years, said: “I worry about my fellow drivers who now qualify for food stamps. Under this new contract, I couldn’t even support myself, let alone my wife if she was still in school.”  Abdel Hmami, with 9 years with the company, added:  “Before [the new contract] we had peace of mind. Now I have to hustle at two jobs to earn what I did before.”  Mohamed Hllouz, a 5-year employee, also is considering more work:  “I’ve seen my income cut by 50% under this contract, especially this time of year because it’s busier. I’m thinking about getting a second job now.”

Supporters of the shuttle drivers can sign a CWA-sponsored petition on their behalf.  You can also follow the ongoing campaign on Facebook.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Arena Football Players Join AFL-CIO

The Arena Football League Players Union will join the AFL-CIO after its Board of Player Representatives voted unanimously to affiliate with the 56 unions and 12.5 million members of the labor federation. The AFLPU, which began operations in 1987, now has 14 teams and is looking to expand into China. The union represents some 350 players, more than 90% of the league’s players.

Ivan F. Soto, executive director of the players’ union, explained the move:

It was just a natural fit for us. With the rapid growth of the league we’re starting to see, we felt it was good to align ourselves with an organization that can help us domestically and internationally….We’re happy to have the backbone of the AFL-CIO behind us. That’s what solidarity is about—trying to grow the pie for everybody, especially the players, the labor.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka welcomed the players:

The labor movement is stronger when all workers—from nurses in California to teachers in New York or arena football players across the country—speak with a collective voice. We are excited to welcome the AFLPU into America’s labor movement and look forward to working together to improve the lives of all working people.

Soto added that arena football is a dangerous sport and that the players “don’t earn the kind of compensation that NFL players do.” Joining the AFL-CIO, he said, was a way to make sure that games are played with properly trained union players with sufficient protections. “You can’t just throw 20 guys out there in an arena that don’t have a lot of experience. Someone could get killed.”

He noted that the resources of the AFL-CIO would be valuable to the players:

This partnership will help grow the AFLPU and level the playing field for players as our league continues to grow. The AFL-CIO’s resources will provide our athletes with training, education and many other benefits that will help us achieve our goal: a workplace that treats athletes fairly and puts player safety first.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Albuquerque City Council Votes to Strengthen Minimum Wage Enforcement

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Employers who don’t pay the Albuquerque minimum wage could now face jail time or other penalties, as per a new city ordinance approved late Thursday night by a 7-2 measure.

The ordinance comes after months of organizing by Working America to increase awareness on the lack of enforcement. The measure now goes to Mayor Richard Berry for his consideration.

The minimum wage increase became effective in early 2013, but there have been complaints from workers and community members alike that employers haven’t abided by the new law, essentially committing wage theft and cheating workers out of the raises they’re owed.

Currently, the minimum wage in Albuquerque is $8.60 per hour and the tipped wage is $5.16. Both are indexed to the cost of living.

“In 2012, our members worked hard to pass the minimum wage increase, so it was both frustrating and baffling when employers flouted the law without penalty,” said Working America state director Jared Ames.

Now that stricter penalties are coming down the pipeline, there’s hope that workers may be able to get the pay increases that they deserve.

“This shows they are on the side of working class families and I’m excited to see them take steps in the right direction,” said Working America member and tipped worker Israel Chavez, who testified before the City Council.

Since the wage increase became law, Working America has been on the front lines, fighting for the enforcement of the law and attempting to hold the city accountable.

“Working America has led the effort to draw attention to the lack of enforcement, and mobilized its members at city council meetings and actions. This victory is one more indication that we can make an impact by letting our voices be heard,” Ames said.

Working America members have also helped raise wages in Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties, despite Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing a statewide minimum wage increase passed in 2013.

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How Speaker Boehner Is Making Life Harder for Potential NFL Player Michael Sam

In February, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be considered for the NFL draft. If he is drafted, he will make history by becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League.

Luckily for Sam, the NFL has a company-wide policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, however, the country as a whole has no such law: in 29 states you can be fired for being gay (or perceived as gay) and in 33 states you can be fired for being transgender.

If Michael Sam is drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, or Carolina Panthers, he will work in a state where most LGBT people have no workplace protections (13 other teams operate in cities that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but where there are no such statewide laws).

Statewide LGBT employment protections currently:

Bloomberg’s Joshua Green laid out Michael Sam’s predicament in a February 12 Boston Globe op-ed:

Sam essentially has no say in where he’ll work, since whichever team drafts him will have exclusive rights to his services. No federal law prevents employers from discriminating against him on the basis of his sexuality. So he’s uniquely exposed to the vagaries of state laws — or, in many cases, the lack of one. If Sam winds up with, say, the New England Patriots, he’ll be protected by the laws that prohibit workplace discrimination in Massachusetts and 20 other states. But if he’s drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, he won’t be, since Georgia does not ban discrimination.

The lack of coherence in the law Green points out could be solved, at almost any point in time, by Speaker John Boehner.

In November 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) with a huge bipartisan majority of 64-votes. ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation nationwide, solving the “vagaries of state laws” problem Michael Sam and millions of other LGBT Americans face daily.

Unfortunately, Speaker Bohener has yet to introduce it in the House. “The speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs,” said Boehner’s spokesperson.

On this issue, Boehner is on the wrong side of public opinion. 70 percent of Americans believe LGBT people face “a lot” or “some” discrimination at work, and 73 percent favor laws that would protect LGBT from discrimination at the workplace.

With any luck, Sam will be drafted by a team in a city where he would be protected as a football player, a schoolteacher, or a fast food worker equally. But chances are that he will remain exposed to legal discrimination, as will LGBT players who come after him, unless Boehner is convinced that the issue is not as “frivolous” as he thinks it is.

Photo by @BuzzFeed on Twitter

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Los Angeles Becomes the First City with More Than a Dozen Unionized Carwashes

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With more than a dozen local carwashes now unionized, Los Angeles workers are leading the way for union carwashes. The 133 new unionized carwasheros are represented by the United Steelworkers Local 675. The carwash owners where these employees work also have agreed by contract to comply with all labor, health and safety regulations and give their workers a 2% raise. Workers are now able to enforce these working standards by themselves through a grievance procedure.

The California Labor Federation explains why this is such an important step forward:

Unfortunately, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws leading to unsafe and unhealthy workplaces for workers and the communities they serve. In March 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported the results of an investigation of the carwash industry, finding that many owners pay less than half of the required minimum wage, and that two-thirds of those inspected by the state’s labor department since 2003 were out of compliance with one or more labor laws. Although some violations were minor, others were fundamental: underpaying workers, hiring minors, operating without workers’ compensation insurance, and denying workers meal and rest breaks.

Carwash workers in Los Angeles are overwhelmingly Latino immigrants and their work is very labor intensive. On a typical weekday, a carwash may service up to 500 cars. The workers must work at a fast pace for long periods of time, often drenched in water and exposed to high summer temperatures. In order to wash and clean such a high number of vehicles, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws, such as those requiring rest breaks or providing shade and clean drinking water.

See the map below for the new unionized carwashes:

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Biggest Struggle With Working In Retail Isn’t Low Wages

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The retail sector is notorious for low wages and high turnover. But one of the most troubling aspects of working for retail is scheduling.

Many big retail stores use computer systems that use data from the weather outside, the flow of customers in the store, and the rate of sales to determine how many employees are needed for any given time.

This sort of automation is intended to boost the store’s bottom line. But for retail workers, who are often parents who need to hire babysitters, students who have tuition payments due, or people just trying to juggle shifts with two jobs, the “just-in-time” scheduling system wreaks havoc on their lives.

Watch and share this video from our friends at the Retail Action Project, and text JOBS to 30644 to join the fight for dignity at work for all.

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