12 Recent Victories for Workers in Raising Wages and Collective Bargaining

While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.

1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.

2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW PlantAuto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.

3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.

4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.

5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.

6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.

7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.

8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.

9.  Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.

10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.

11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengtheningfinancial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.

12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.

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A Brief History of Why We Still Have Tax Breaks for Companies That Ship Jobs Overseas

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There was a lot going on in the news last week, so no one would blame most Americans for missing a key vote in the U.S. Senate.

On July 30, 42 Senators, 41 of them Republican, filibustered a bill called the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would have ended tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and eased the tax burden for companies who wanted to bring jobs back to the United States.

Let’s be clear about this. They filibustered the bill, meaning they didn’t even allow it to go to a full debate. They didn’t allow it to reach an “up or down vote,” where it would’ve only needed a simple majority of 50 votes to pass.

The filibuster started as a last ditch, emergency maneuver where a Senator could stand up and talk for hours upon hours to keep a vote from happening. The only way to stop the speech was a vote of 60 present Senators. But since 2008, Senate Republicans–under the direction of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)–have used the filibuster to block everything from economic stimulus to reauthorizing longstanding funding. Basically nothing can move without reaching that 60 vote threshold.

These filibusters and “cloture votes” have become so common in the last 6 years, barely anyone in Washington acknowledges how wildly ridiculous they are. The media, eager not to blame any party or individual in particular, still publish headlines like “bill fails 59-41″ without mentioning that there were 59 YES votes, and that a 41 vote minority oddly had the power to stop the bill in its tracks.

Last November, Democrats lead by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) successfully ended the use of the filibuster only for certain votes; specifically, votes on presidential appointments like judges (but not Supreme Court judges) and key government officials. Sen. McConnell and his allies howled, as if this had come out of nowhere and they hadn’t abused the filibuster for 6 years. The media pushed this as a big event, leading many Americans to believe the filibuster had ended outright.

Oh no. It’s very much alive. And 2014 has seen its fair share: renewing unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, and much more.

So why fight so hard to preserve tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas? Steelworkers President Leo Gerard documents some of the reasons given:

Some Republican Senators stomped their feet and demanded continued subsidies for offshoring of jobs unless the entire tax code was overhauled, a feat that seems, well, somewhat unlikely from this record-breaking, do-nothing, Republican-thwarted Congress.

In other words: we don’t want to change the tax code until we change the whole tax code all at once. That’s not typically how things get done.

Other Republicans protested the cost. It’s true that over a decade, the change from tax breaks for offshorers to tax breaks for onshorers was projected by the Joint Committee on Taxation to cost $214 million. That’s million, not billion. And it’s over a decade, so $21.4 million a year.

Is that too high a price tag? Well…

That’s not chump change, but for comparison purposes, the state of Tennessee gave Volkswagen $165.8 millionthis year to expand its Chattanooga assembly plant. In 2008, Tennessee gave VW $577 million to build the factory in the state. That’s more than $742 million from one state to one company over six years, or, to put it another way, $123 million a year. That’s nearly six times the annual national cost of the Bring Jobs Home Act…there’s something deeply wrong with forcing Tennessee taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions to bring jobs to their state, and, at the same time, subsidize corporations moving jobs out of the state and the country.

Blocking the Bring Jobs Home Act and giving halfhearted excuses is bad enough. The other half of the injustice is how they blocked it, and how filibusters of much-needed legislation happen so often that it gets buried at the bottom of the weekly news.

Photo of Senator Mitch McConnell by Gage Skidmore

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K-E Double L! O Double Greed

When the Kellogg Co. locked out some 220 workers from its Memphis, Tenn., plant in October, it was another step in Kellogg’s corporate battle plan to replace steady, middle-class, full-time jobs in the United States and elsewhere with casual part-time employees who would make significantly lower wages and substandard benefits.

Today the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union stepped up its campaign to shed light on Kellogg’s Greed and put pressure on the globally recognized cereal maker to end its Memphis lockout and step back from its plans to cuts jobs and shutter plants in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

In videos on the just-launched website, Kellogg Greed, Memphis workers talk about the toll Kellogg’s lockout has taken on them and their families and workers in the London, Ontario plant in Canada that Kellogg is shutting down at the end of the year and reveal how they were deceived by the cereal maker.

Another video explores the $14 billion a year cereal giant’s plan to increase production in low-wage countries, including Mexico, Malaysia and Thailand.

While CEO John Bryant received $8 million in salary in 2013 and investors continue to profit from increasing dividend payouts and share buybacks, thousands of Kellogg employees and the communities they live in are left devastated and angry.

Take action and send a message to Bryant, urging him to end the Memphis lockout and cease the attacks on Kellogg’s dedicated and hardworking employees in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The Memphis workers have received support from national politicians, religious leaders, civil rights organizations and international labor groups, including the Congressional Black Caucus, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations, the National Action Network and others.

See all the videos below and stay tuned for more updates on this story:

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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UAW Files Appeal with NLRB on Outside Interference During Chattanooga Volkswagen UAW Election

UAW Files Appeal with NLRB on Outside Interference During Chattanooga Volkswagen UAW Election

It’s hard enough to form a union without politicians and special interest groups interfering and using scare tactics. Which is exactly what happened in Chattanooga, Tenn., when Volkswagen workers narrowly voted against representation with UAW by 44 votes.

The UAW filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Friday related to the interference by politicians and outside special interest groups in that election.

A firestorm of interference from politicians and special interest groups threatened the economic future of the plant just before and during three days of voting in an election supervised by the NLRB. The objections detail a coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign conducted by politicians and outside organizations to deprive Volkswagen workers of their federally protected right to join a union.

“It’s essentially saying, ‘If you unionize, it’s going to hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m going to make sure it does,’” said Volkswagen worker Lauren Feinauer. “I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

The campaign also included threats by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) related to promises of a new product line awarded to the plant if workers voted against UAW representation.

The objections state, “Sen. Corker’s conduct was shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen.…The clear message of the campaign was that voting for the union would result in stagnation for the Chattanooga plant, with no new product, no job security and withholding of state support for its expansion.”

For more information, visit www.uaw.org/uawvw.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: ‘Right-Wing Zealotry’ Played Role in VW Vote

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.

Trumka says:

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

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Despite Millions Spent in Opposition, Date Set for High Profile Union Election in Chattanooga

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.

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The Five States With the Lowest Quality of Life Have This In Common.

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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.

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Something Cool is Happening at T-Mobile Memphis Store and It’s Not a New Data Plan

Last week students from the University of Memphis Progressive Student Alliance, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) Local 68, courageously took over a local T-Mobile store to deliver a holiday message to the company. Watch these brave students as they face down the vicious management reaction and peacefully deliver their holiday message.

After you watch the video, please share it.

In the fall semester, USAS started a national campaign to support T-Mobile workers’ organizing. There are more than 25,000 T-Mobile workers across the United States who currently face high-stress working environments, arbitrary management, yelling and abuse and a brutal ongoing company campaign to prevent workers from joining together to seek changes at work.

Students were appalled to learn that many universities have deep commercial ties to T-Mobile through purchasing, service and infrastructure contracts, making their schools important corporate clients. Outraged that the universities would continue to give money to an abusive employer, they have taken action to demand that several universities cut their contracts with T-Mobile. Now they are speaking out to tell T-Mobile to respect its workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW.  Teresa Casertano contributed to this post.

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ALEC Says No Sick Days (or Democracy) for You

In the last three years, nine states have added new laws that prohibit local governments from passing paid sick leave ordinances. Seven of these laws were passed in 2013 alone and 14 states introduced such legislation in the last year, Think Progress reports. In every state where local preemption bills have passed on paid sick leave, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were among the co-sponsors of the legislation. In most cases, corporate lobby groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business and the National Restaurant Association also have been involved heavily in passing the laws. It’s bad enough these groups oppose paid sick days for working families, but they don’t even want democratically elected officials deciding on policies—they want to prevent these policies from even coming up for a vote.

Corporate groups routinely argue that paid sick leave ordinances will harm businesses, but the evidence so far rejects those claims. Bryce Covert of Think Progress writes:

Business growth and job growth have been strong under Seattle’s law. Job growth also has been strong in San Francisco and its law enjoys strong business support. The policies in Washington, D.C., andConnecticut have come at little cost for businesses. In fact, expanding D.C.’s current law would net employers $2 million in savings even with potential costs factored in. On the other hand, the average employerloses $225 per worker each year, thanks to lost productivity when they get sick and can’t take paid leave.

Before 2010, Georgia was the only state to have such a pre-emption law, since then Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin have added them. This push comes as a direct response to local governments showing real momentum in passing paid sick leave ordinances. Six cities and the state of Connecticut have passed paid sick days laws and other cities are considering joining them in protecting workers, customers and employers from the negative effects of sick employees.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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1 Victory on Local Pensions, 5 Battles to Watch

Pension battles are heating up in cities across the nation as conservatives and Republicans are pushing to strip public workers of their retirement plans, often with little or nothing offered as a replacement. The primary argument, although a false one, is that these pensions are “too expensive” and that during times of fiscal woes, cities can’t afford them. In reality, these plans are often little more than veiled attempts to abandon commitments to workers and shift spending to more conservative priorities.

Working families had a victory in Tucson, Ariz., this month when a judge threw an initiative off the November ballot after it was determined that many of the required signatures gathered to put the question before the voters were improperly gathered. The initiative would’ve eliminated the city’s pension plan and replaced it with a 401(k)-style plan.

While there was a victory for working families in Arizona, pension plans in numerous other cities aren’t quite as safe. Here are five cities to watch as pension plans become a more prominent target of conservatives:

1. Cincinnati: A group of mostly out-of-state tea party activists, including the Liberty Initiative Fund from Virginia, succeeded in gathering enough signatures to put an initiative on the Nov. 13 ballot that is very similar to the one that just failed in Tucson. The plan, if passed, would eliminate the city’s pension fund for any future hires, replacing it with 401(k)-style private funds directed by individual employees, effectively privatizing the pension system. Many of the city employees who would be in the new plans are not eligible for Social Security and would have no safety net to fall back on if the stock market did poorly or they failed to successfully manage their new accounts.

2. Jacksonville, Fla.:  The Pew Charitable Trust is partnering with the John & Laura Arnold Foundation and is expected to promote what is called a “cash balance” plan to replace the city’s current pension plan. If the plan mirrors what Pew proposed in Kentucky, it would amount to a significant reduction in retirement savings for future retirees, who would get a set cash amount based on years of service. This measure has not been officially proposed yet.

3. Memphis, Tenn.: The mayor’s office is proposing a series of pension changes that the local Fire Fighters (IAFF) call a barrage of attacks on workers. The proposed changes include setting a minimum age to receive retirement benefits, reducing benefits for employees who take early retirement and using a salary average to determine pension benefits.

4. Phoenix: Citizens for Pension Reform is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would switch the city’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan and capping potential benefits for current employees. The switch, similar to the proposals in other cities, would amount to a benefit cut.

5. Tulsa, Okla.: The mayor is also suggesting making the change from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. The change would affect only new employees and would not include firefighters or police, who are enrolled in a state-managed retirement system.

Photo via Arizona AFL-CIO on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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