AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre: ‘We Will Get $10.10, but It’s Not Enough’

Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO

Workers across the country are using the symbolism of Oct. 10 to amplify the call for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre commemorated the day by meeting with low-wage workers from the D.C. region who would be impacted by a minimum wage increase. Over lunch, the workers talked about what it’s like to raise their families on low pay and the challenges they face every day to make ends meet.

Here are two of their stories:

Fatmata, an immigrant from Saudi Arabia and mother of two, works at Walmart for $8 an hour. She used to dream of coming to America and providing a good life for her family, but her life doesn’t feel like the American dream. She cannot afford to feed her children without government assistance, and she frequently is forced to borrow money to pay for transportation to work and for rent. She doesn’t want to depend on outside assistance—she wants to be financially independent—but she has no choice. For Fatmata, a $2 an hour increase would be significant in many ways.

She’s asked her manager to make her full-time, but her hours vary from one week to the next, which is common practice throughout the retail industry. The United Food and Commercial Workers has strived for years to bring more attention to this problem, particularly at Walmart. This has led many Walmart employees to speak out and advocate for scheduling improvements and other workplace rights through the Our Walmart campaign.

Akofa is a taxi cab driver in Montgomery County, Md. Every day is a challenge. She’s raising three children on a single source of income. Her husband is sick and can no longer work, so she works long hours to make ends meet for her family. After deducting for gas, insurance, credit card fees and the daily expenses the cab company charges, Akofa barely takes any money home. She has no ability to save, and she struggles to even pay her rent. She described her daily life as “slavery, not work” and told Gebre, “Something is wrong if a job can’t feed you,” especially when you work more than 12 hours a day.

Akofa is grateful for the labor federation’s support and is joining her fellow drivers in organizing a union, which has already made a big difference in the way she has been treated by the cab company. A higher minimum wage would make life less burdensome, and give her and her co-workers more leverage in contract negotiations.

After hearing the workers’ stories, Gebre thanked them for having the courage to speak out. He reminded the workers that these struggles are not new, telling them, “There has been economic injustice throughout the history of our country…but it’s important to remember that things like slavery, sharecropping and child labor did not end because corporations came together and suddenly decided to. Workers came together to make the change, and the bravery of everyone here today gives me hope that it will change again.”

“The minimum wage will not be raised if politicians are not held accountable,” Gebre continued. But, as he reminded the room, a higher minimum wage is not enough. “Wages have been stagnant for a generation, and tens of millions of families live in economic insecurity. It will take political intervention to change the course of our nation, and it will take a wave of workers who are willing to stand up for their rights.”

Having heard the conviction in each of the workers’ voices and seen the look of determination in their eyes, Gebre told the room he was confident justice is coming. And, he said, it will arrive soon.

Stand with workers who want to raise the federal minimum wage and sign the petition. 

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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Sen. Ayotte Pits Unemployed Workers Against Poor Children

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Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has a plan. She says that to pay for extending unemployment insurance (UI), we should cut off the Child Tax Credit for 2 million families (5 million children), most of them Latino.

Let’s repeat that because it sounds kind of important.

To help the families of the 1.3 million workers who have been out of work for six months or more and lost their UI payments just before Christmas, Ayotte’s solution is to take money away from poor Latino children whose families are taxpayers.

That may be a valid solution to the extremists who run the Republican Party these days, but it comes across as a vindictive and mean-spirited move to most people, including a coalition of organizations that condemned the proposal in a Monday press conference.

“Senator Kelly Ayotte says she understands families, but her proposal to deny a child tax credit to a taxpaying immigrant family is an attack on innocent children. Pitting children against the long-term unemployed is nothing more than an ugly attempt to derail legislation to extend emergency unemployment for struggling families,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group that is part of the coalition. “Her proposed amendment should be soundly defeated as antithetical to the Gospel call to care for children and those at the margins of society, and to long-held values in our nation.”

The AFL-CIO is also part of the coalition and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre also condemned Ayotte’s plan:  “This cynical proposal doesn’t reflect the America I have come to know and love as an immigrant. My America doesn’t need to pit the jobless against the children of immigrants. We are better than that.”

The proposal targets not only aspiring citizens, but any individual not eligible for a Social Security Number, something that isn’t limited to undocumented immigrants. Ayotte’s proposal would deny Child Tax Credit eligibility to families using the alternate option for those who can’t obtain a Social Security Number, the Individual Tax Identification Number, and who are legally eligible for the Child Tax Credit.  This would deny the credit to approximately 5 million children in low-wage families, making it harder for those families to feed and provide housing for these children.

A recent poll on the topic found the obvious that voters oppose cuts to the Child Tax Credit, with 68% of those surveyed in opposition.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka, Shuler, Gebre Elected to Lead AFL-CIO


New AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre

Delegates to the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention today elected a trio of top officers to lead the labor movement to become, said re-elected AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “the movement America needs us to be and we must be.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler was elected to a second term and, in a classic American success story, Tefere Gebre, a 45-year-old Ethiopian political refugee who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, was elected executive vice president.

In his acceptance speech, Trumka, a Pennsylvania coal miner who rose to the presidency of the Mine Workers (UMWA) and then served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer until his election to the top post in 2009, called himself “an example that a man or woman can be carried far by those who came before.”

He spoke of his grandfathers who were UMWA organizers, his coal mining father who also served as a union officer and “the union brothers and sisters who showed me the ropes, who taught me about life and unionism, who stood strong with me when I was too young to even know what it meant to stand.”

Noting that many of the union members in the convention hall and around the nation share similar legacies and owe much to those who came before them in the labor movement, he said:

It is a gift we can only repay by giving it all—and more—to those who come along with us and after us. That is why we are building a stronger, broader movement. We have a responsibility to lift others up, to give to those in need in this generation and in future generations what has already been given to us. And more.

Shuler’s union career began with the Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Portland, Ore., and she has served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 2009.

She said that strengthening the AFL-CIO’s finances—with transparency and accountability—was her major goal when she took office and, like the federation’s affiliated unions, the AFL-CIO would have to tighten its belt.

So we scrutinized our finances to the smallest detail. We made tough choices and set priorities. The result is, as of the latest fiscal year, we have a balanced budget. The result is a $22 million turnaround in our net assets….Of course, we are nowhere out of the woods yet. We know there will be challenges ahead.

Shuler also said that developing and launching the long-term campaign to redefine how the public sees unions has made progress and “we must move it forward.” The most rewarding—and challenging—part of her job for the past four years, she said, has been engaging young workers in the labor movement and giving them “a sense of belonging and ownership.”

I don’t have the words to fully describe the feeling when you see the light in a young person’s eyes when they realize that their desire to be part of something bigger than themselves is within reach, when they see that they have power. Let’s harness that power and bring the old school and new school together in solidarity.

Prior to his election, Gebre—a former director of government relations of Laborers (LIUNALocal 270 and a member of the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and IBEW—served as the executive director of theOrange County (Calif.) Labor Federation. He was also executive director of Frontlash, the first youth and college arm of the labor movement.

At 14, after walking across the African desert from his native Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan to “escape the horrors of war and a brutal military government,” Gebre said he won a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to America as a political refugee.” He told the convention delegates:

At the tender age of 15, I started a brand-new life in this ‘City of Angels’….This is not just my story. It’s a story of millions who proudly call America home. Documented or undocumented, the immigrant story is what makes this country of ours so special.

Gebre made a commitment to work with the state federations and central labor councils:

To my brothers and sisters in local labor movements, state federations and CLCs, I am one of you. I know how hard your job is, and how important your role is. Each of us has the responsibility to convene the labor movement in our own communities—across unions and sectors and to work in real partnership with allies in the community….I pledge to you that I will always be there to listen, advise and help our CLCs and state federations be the best we can be.

Click here to read more about Gebre.

Photo by @RickEiden on Twitter

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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