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
The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.
These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.
Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.
John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”
James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:
Health care needs
On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.
A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.
Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.
While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”
This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.
My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.
Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.
Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.
Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter
Tags: Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Rick Perry, Texas, Tom Corbett
After months of door-to-door organizing, petitioning, phone calls to lawmakers and mobilizing by a coalition of more than 30 community, faith and labor groups including Working America and Fe y Justicia Worker Center, the Houston City Council today passed a historic city wage theft ordinance that restricts the city from doing business with wage theft offenders. Houston is the first city in Texas to do so.
The ordinance provides a process to bring wage-theft claims forward and calls for the city to build a public database to track and bar wage theft offenders from getting city contracts, permits or licenses.
“The Houston City Council’s passage of this ordinance proves that the voice of the people is stronger than the checkbooks of special interests,” said Working America member Elisabeth Johnson. “I’m excited to be part of this amazing movement and look forward to the next fight.”
Johnson collected letters in favor of the ordinance and spoke at the recent city council meeting where the ordinance was considered.
“We went door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians, mobilizing them to call, write and push the City Council to stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of working families,” said Durrel Douglas, Working America Texas State Director. “We called on our lawmakers to listen to the people—and they did.”
The ordinance goes into effect immediately.
For more information, contact: Durrel Douglas, 832-857-5737; Aruna Jain, 301-461-9576
Photo by @SenatorSylvia on Twitter
Tags: houston, Rights At Work, Texas, wage theft
MSNBC’s new Friday late night show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” recently featured an in-depth interview with Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of the Workers Defense Project (WDP). She explained the hardships and abuses immigrant workers face, especially undocumented construction workers in Texas, and some of the successes—such as the recent wage and job safety protections approved last month by the Austin City Council—WDP has seen.
Baldwin told viewers that while the battle over comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship “plays out in Washington, out in the rest of the country, out of the spotlight,” immigrant workers are “fighting real battles to feed their families.”
Why? Because without the protection of citizenship, they’re vulnerable to exploitation like wage theft—people hiring them to do work and then not paying them—unsafe and deadly work conditions like denying water breaks to people working outside in the summer heat. The Workers Defense Project in Texas is leading the fight to change this.
Watch part one of the interview above and part two below.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Alec Baldwin, austin, construction, Rights At Work, safety, Texas, Workers Defense Project
Workers across Houston are being robbed. But it’s not by a masked burglar. It’s by their bosses.
Wage theft happens every day across America. Low-wage workers, particularly those in the retail and service sectors, are often cheated out of the minimum wage and overtime that they are entitled to by their employers.
Any time a server is asked to clean tables after they’ve punched out? That’s wage theft. When an hourly-wage retail attendant is paid less than time-and-a-half for hours worked past 40 a week? That’s wage theft. Whenever a construction worker doesn’t receive their last paycheck? That’s wage theft.
Wage theft is illegal, yet employers constantly get away with it. In Houston, more than 100 wage and hour violations occur every week. But we have an opportunity to change this.
Mayor Annise Parker is bringing a wage theft ordinance before the Houston City Council on Wednesday, November 12.
Write a message to the City Council and tell them to support the anti-wage theft bill.
The ordinance would make any business convicted of or assessed an administrative penalty for wage theft ineligible for city contracts. It would create a huge incentive for businesses to follow the law and pay workers what they are owed.
We’ve gone door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians collecting over 1,000 handwritten letters with one message: City Council needs to act now and stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of workers. We’ve called on City Council to listen to the people and not make back room deals with lobbyists and special interest groups.
Tomorrow, they’ll show their hand. Tell the City Council to support the anti-wage theft bill.
Here’s a sample of what you can write:
Every worker deserves fair pay for a fair day’s work. That’s why I urge you to support the Wage Theft Ordinance.
The ordinance will level the playing field for responsible businesses and hold businesses that steal wages from their workers accountable and ensure they do not receive city contracts, permits or licenses.
Every worker deserves wage protection in Houston. Please vote in favor of the Wage Theft Ordinance.
Tags: Annise Parker, houston, Rights At Work, Texas, wage theft
A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 67 percent of Texans support the expansion of Medicaid, which would allow 1.2 million in the state to afford health insurance.
Two-thirds of voters support giving states the option to expand their Medicaid programs for low-income, uninsured adults. That majority spanned the ideological spectrum on an issue that Texas lawmakers ducked last session, opting not to expand that coverage.
Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is leaving office in January 2015 after three terms, has refused Medicaid expansion at every turn. He has said expanding Medicaid would be “like putting another thousand people on the Titanic,” whatever that means. Past standard anti-Obamacare claptrap, he has not offered any solutions for the 1.2 million Texans who don’t have health insurance, the most of any state in the country. Perry’s refusal also leaves $79 billion in federal assistance on the table.
But the Perry administration’s opposition to Obamacare implementation goes past Medicaid. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is seeking to succeed Perry, has also placed additional restrictions on health care “navigators,” making it more difficult for Texans to obtain insurance on the state exchange.
More than any website glitch, the deliberate obstruction of politicians like Perry and Abbott is what stands between Texans and affordable health coverage. And public opinion stands firmly against this reckless, needless cruelty.
Take Action: Tell Gov. Perry to accept Medicaid expansion and allow 1.2 million Texans to afford health insurance.
Tags: Affordable Care Act, Greg Abbott, Health Care, Medicaid, obamacare, Rick Perry, Texas
Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:
1. Increasing the Minimum Wage
Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.
2. Passing “Buy America” Laws
Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.
3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days
Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.
4. Protecting Immigrant Workers
In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.
5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers
Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).
6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job
In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.
7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media
Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.
8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality
Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.
9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers
Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.
10. Protecting Voting Rights
Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, Arizona, California, Colorado, connecticut, Delaware, domestic workers, Education, Florida, Illinois, marriage equality, maryland, minimum wage, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York City, Oregon, organizing, Paid Sick Days, privacy, Rhode Island, Rights At Work, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, voting rights, washington, West Virginia
Several hundred construction workers in Austin, Texas—mostly immigrants—and their supporters from faith, union and community groups saw their months-long fight for respect and fair wages come to a successful conclusion when the Austin City Council last week passed an ordinance requiring employers on construction projects that receive city economic incentives pay prevailing wages, provide safety training and other worker protections.
In a statement following the 6–1 City Council vote, the Workers Defense Project (WDP) thanked the lawmakers and their allies—including Austin Interfaith and the Texas State Building and Construction Trades Council—for their support and said:
In the end, the construction workers of this city got this ambitious bill started, and they got it across the finish line. We still have lots more work to do, but last night was proof that we can achieve great things for our city together.
For more than a decade, the WDP has been battling against wage theft, spotlighting the dangers and winning reforms of the Texas construction industry and standing up for workplace justice and immigrants’ rights.
Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller said:
The Austin City Council’s decision to ask companies that receive tax breaks to give something back in the form of higher construction wages came about in large part because a broad coalition, including labor unions, stood united. Many companies that come to Austin will offer workplace benefits that help the entire community. Others can decline to meet the ‘living wage’ standard, but the council’s action makes it less likely they will be rewarded with subsidies just for showing up. The ordinance is a carrot, not a stick, and it will benefit workers.
WDP Political Director Greg Casar told the Texas Observer that the Austin ordinance “should be a model for the rest of our state to follow.”
Texas by far gives more tax incentives [than other states] in the country, while the working people who build Texas aren’t allowed to make enough money to make ends meet and aren’t allowed a safe worksite….The city took a critical and historic step last night to make sure that our tax dollars are really benefiting all of Austin and all the people who are paying taxes rather than just the corporations receiving the tax breaks.
Read more about Austin’s new law here and more about the WDP from The New York Times here.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: austin, construction, Jobs, Rights At Work, Texas
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report detailing the top states for “food security,” a term for the availability of food and one’s access to it.
The five states at the bottom of the list are North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, all of which have so-called “right to work” laws on the books.
The correlation is not direct, but the effects of these laws on all workers, union and non-union alike, are well-documented. States with “right to work” laws, which make it more difficult for unions to operate and advocate on behalf of their members, have lower average wages, higher rates of poverty, spend less on education, and have more workplace injuries and fatalities than state without “right to work” laws.
In states where unions can operate without the law’s interference, workers are more able to advocate for their needs in the workplace without fear of retaliation: from their hourly pay to their safety on the job.
It’s not surprising that with the interference of “right to work” laws, workers in North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas are less likely to make enough money to adequately feed themselves and their families, and less likely to be able to change their situation through organizing.
Even with all the data, reckless politicians and their well-monied allies continue to push “right to work” laws. Missouri’s Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder told supporters he will continue to fight for a “right to work” law in his state, even though a Republican supermajority could not bring the measure to the floor this past year. Corporate-backed think tanks are pushing similar initiatives in Oregon and Washington.
As We Party Patriots notes:
While not every food related problem can be fixed by higher wages, policies that intentionally lower wages must be taken to task. They are a troubling, culpable piece of America’s deteriorated health puzzle.
We support the right of workers to have a voice on their job, and to make at least enough money so they don’t have to wonder where their next meal — or their child’s next meal — is coming from. We don’t think that’s a lot to ask.
Note: Because of the government shutdown, the USDA site hosting the report is offline.
Photo by USDAgov on Flickr
Tags: arkansas, mississippi, North Carolina, Right to Work, Rights At Work, Texas
Neutex Advanced Energy Group, a Houston-based maker of LED lights, light bulbs and fixtures, brought its core manufacturing operation from China back to the United States last year and turned to the Electrical Workers (IBEW) to staff its facility.
Paul Puente, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 716, approached John Higgins, president and CEO of Neutex, to discuss his needs and concerns and how they could work together.Higgins agreed to make the facility an IBEW union shop, and the Electrical Workers agreed to provide training for its workers and help the company market its union-made products. Neutex will employ 250 to 300 IBEW members in its 15,000-square-foot facility.
“The partnership with the IBEW, it’s giving us credibility when we’re growing in leaps and bounds,” says Higgins. “We should be able to bring this [to the United States] and still be able to make a much better quality product, in better time and help our middle class.”
This post originally appeared on AFL-CIO’s @Work site. Read more @Work stories here.
Tags: aflcio, houston, ibew, Jobs, outsourcing, Texas