LIUNA, UAW Members Guests of First Lady at State of the Union

Two union members, one representing the benefits of union training and apprenticeship programs and the other the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry were guests of first lady Michelle Obama during last night’s State of the Union address.

Laborers (LIUNA) Local 300 member LeDaya Epps said:

The skills training I received through my union has done more than teach me a trade. It’s renewed my life. It has been a lifeline to a career I am proud of and allowed me to provide for myself and my three children.

Epps was unemployed a year ago, but with the help of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, an affiliate of the UCLA Labor Center, enrolled in an apprenticeship-readiness program sponsored by the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building Trades Council. After completing that training, she entered Local 300’s apprenticeship program.

The Compton, Calif., native is currently working on a project to expand the light rail train line for the LA Metro to Los Angeles International Airport.

During his address, President Barack Obama spoke forcefully about how job training and paid apprenticeships, such as the one that has opened doors for Epps, are “opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.”

He also called for laws that “that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice [and]…that make sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.”

Read more about Epps and her journey from jobless to a family-supporting union job from LIUNA, the North America’s Building Trades Unions and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Also sitting with Mrs. Obama was Tiairris Woodward of UAW Local 7 in Detroit. She works at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Chrysler has emerged from its 2009 bankruptcy and now, like the entire American automobile industry, is making big contributions to the nation’s economy.

Woodward, a 43-year-old mom from Harrison, Mich., took on a second full-time job at Chrysler in 2010 after she found that she couldn’t support herself and her three children. After working 17-hour days across two jobs for some time, Tiairris was able to move solely to her Chrysler assembly line position. Within a year, she’d saved enough to buy a car and rent a new apartment and is attending college.

Earlier this month, Woodward wrote the White House thanking Obama for his actions that helped Chrysler survive bankruptcy and revived the auto industry. Read more on Woodward from the Detroit News.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Dear David: Train in Vain?

Question:

At the company I work for, employees are expected to attend training, usually four hours per day, Monday to Friday, for 30 days (without pay). Once training is completed, they may or may not get a chance to work, because the company has brought on so many people that most of the time only 10 percent can be on the schedule at one time. There are over 3,000 of us with the same job title working for this company all over the country. So many people are getting taken advantage of every day by this company. I know at least 90 percent of us feel the same way. A lawsuit has already been started, but I feel we need to organize and create a union to stop the abuses and manipulation of this company in its tracks. Where do I go from here?

— One in 3,000, Georgia

 

Answer:

Five days a week, four hours a day, for a month? That’s a huge investment of your time, especially when the odds are that it won’t pay off. What an incredibly disrespectful way to treat people who want to work for you.

While there are certainly times when seeking a legal solution is the right way to go, many workplace problems can’t be resolved that way. So it’s good that you are already thinking about another way to address your situation. Organizing with your coworkers, as you seem to understand already, is a smart way to hedge your bets.

Determining whether an individual must be paid for “training” turns on whether the training is for the benefit of the individual or the employee, whether the individual is doing work that otherwise would be done by an employee, and other factors. While the way these workers are being treated sounds terribly unfair, unless there is a contract in place and/or the employer made guarantees based on completion of training, an employer has no obligation to schedule employees for any minimum number of hours, or at all. However, even if this is bona fide training under the standards put out by the Department of Labor, the workers should look to consumer protection laws – such as laws against false or deceptive advertising – to see if this employer’s practices run afoul of the law.

There is a silver lining to the situation you’ve described. If 90 percent of you are feeling the same way about what needs to be changed, you’ve got fertile ground for organizing. Not sure where to start? That’s why we put together FixMyJob.com and OrganizeWith.Us. Check it out, and follow the steps together.

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