Three Great Reasons Why Fast Food Workers Are Striking Today

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Today thousands of fast food workers, with a little bit of help from some homecare workers, went on strike in 100 cities and staged sit-ins in 12 cities.

Organizers are calling it a day of non-violent civil disobedience.

Workers, who have been striking for months now, are demanding a $15 wage and the ability to join a union. The demands seem pretty straightforward, but there are some specific reasons as to exactly why fast food workers are striking:

1. Because $9 an hour doesn’t support a family.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast food workers make, on average, $18,880 a year. According to the living wage calculator, that amount would put a family of two at the poverty level. CNN Money reported that a Chicago-based McDonald’s worker Nancy Salgado makes $8.25 an hour, or $600 a month. Salgado, who is a single mother to two kids, notes that after splitting rent with her three roommates and paying for childcare she’s left with a little over $100 a month for food and other necessities. “If I have a dollar at the end of the month it’s a miracle,” Salgado said.

2. Because taxpayers spend billions on fast food workers’ public assistance. The reality is that, with the wages most fast food workers are paid, many qualify for some sort of public assistance. In fact, According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article, low wages in the fast food industry cost taxpayers about $7 billion a year in public assistance and NPR reports that 52 percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance.  The New York Daily News reported that 81 year old fast food worker Jose Carrillo, who’s received a 10 cent raise in 10 years, would not be able to survive on his $8.10 an hour wage if it wasn’t for “food stamps and Medicare”.

3. And because a union will help. Whether it’s higher wages or better benefits, many fast food workers could use the protections of a union. For example McDonald’s has been hit with a slew of lawsuits alleging wage theft violations, seven in March alone, that accuse the golden arches of failing to pay workers for overtime and forcing them to work while off the clock. Unions, traditionally, are great advocates for workers, ensuring that workers get a fair and safe workplace, proper compensation for work done and an advocate for most work-related issues or problems.

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr.

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Everything You Need To Know About The Harris v. Quinn Decision

Supreme Court building in Washington, DC

by Danielle Cralle and Doug Foote

This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that state-paid home care workers cannot be required to pay fair share fees to a union, despite benefiting from the union-bargained things like higher pay and better job training.

Although the decision doesn’t get rid of fair share in the public sector completely, it’s still a blow to Illinois home care workers  who depend on strong union representation to negotiate for better working conditions.

How does this affect homecare workers?

The decision means that, in Illinois, unions representing homecare workers will have fewer funds to negotiate for things like quality training and supplies, higher pay, or better working conditions; additionally, there’s less money to pay for legal help, staffing, and other costs of union representation. Like a “right to work” law, the decision is a roundabout way of defunding unions.

Under the Illinois union contract (the subject of the original court case) home care aides saw their wages increase from $7 an hour to $11.25 an hour. The wage is expected to increase to $13 an hour by December. Without a fair share fee to ensure that all who benefit share the cost, worker victories like that may not be feasible.

Who is behind Harris v. Quinn?

The plaintiff is an Illinois home care worker named Pamela Harris who opposed her colleagues voting to join SEIU. But, the case got all the way to the Supreme Court thanks to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF), a Virginia-based non-profit that claims to fight “compulsory unionism.” NRTWLDF is the nonprofit arm of the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC).

The list of donors to both groups reads like a “who’s who” of powerful conservatives: the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, the Walton Family [of Walmart] Foundation, , and the John M. Olin Foundation.

NRTWC does extensive lobbying across the country to weaken the voices of union workers. They were big supporters of Scott Walker’s union-busting budget, and their lobbyists were on the ground in Indiana and Michigan to help pass those states’ “right to work” laws.

NRTWC also spent $7 million on ads during the 2012 election.

This case was never about whether or not Pamela Harris should have to pay her fair share fee, it’s about powerful people with corporate interests finding yet another tactic to weaken unions.

Why you should care – even if you aren’t in a union

More than a dispute over who should and shouldn’t pay for union representation, this was big business’ attempt to cripple the American workforce. This decision, as a result, not only affects the union and its members, but all workers.

There are two ways to look at this:

  • Your rights and conditions as a worker could suffer. Studies show that unions set the standard for all workers, even those who aren’t part of a union. Because of this, when something negative or positive happens to a group of organized workers – i.e. union members – you can bet that you, a non-unionized worker, will be impacted as well.
  • The decision could affect the quality of public homecare services in Illinois.  According to The Hill, under the previous negotiated union contract, “the state has improved training, reduced turnover, and increased control over the quality of its providers.”

As a community member, home care is a critical public service. This decision weakens the homecare workforce in Illinois, and it could mean a drop in the quality of services that you or a family member relies on.

Photo by fischerfotos via Flickr.

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6 Reasons Why Unions Are Essential to Creating Broadly Based Prosperity

At the end of March, the Roosevelt Institute launched a new project, the Future of Work, which takes a look at the changing landscape in the area of workers’ rights and representation in the political and economic system that affects their lives. Author Richard Kirsch does a great job of explaining the economy and discussing potential policy solutions in a report titled The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Secure Prosperity for All.

Kirsch said:

The Future of Work is bringing together thought and action leaders from multiple fields to re-imagine a 21st century social contract that expands workers’ rights and increases the number of living wage jobs. The Future of Work is focusing on three areas: Promoting new and innovative strategies for worker organizing and representation; raising the floor of labor market standards and strengthening enforcement of labor laws and standards; and assuring access to good jobs for women and workers of color.

In the report, Kirsch breaks down the issues and solutions into several categories. Read more about each:

1. The New Deal Launched Unions as Key to Building Middle Class

2. The Challenges to Organizing Workers in Today’s Economy

3. National Labor Law in the United States: Scanty Protections for Organizing Leave Out Many Workers

4. How the Weakening of American Labor Led to the Shrinking of America’s Middle Class

5. Labor Law That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy

6. Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

You also can read Kirsch’s full report, which goes into more detail on each of these points.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Bigger Paychecks, Better Benefits for Women Who Carry a Union Card

Unionized women workers continue to have “a substantial boost in pay and benefits” compared to their nonunion counterparts, according to a new issue brief.

The brief by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Women Workers and Unions, finds that:

Unionized women workers, on average, make 12.9 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, are 36.8% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 53.4% more likely to have participated in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

The study also finds that:

  • Being in or represented by a union compares with completing college in terms of wages, especially when tuition costs are factored in. All else equal, being in a union raises a woman’s pay as much as a full year of college does;
  • For a women worker with a high school degree, being in or represented by a union raises her likelihood of having health insurance or a retirement plan by more than earning a four-year college degree would;
  • Women will be a majority of the union workforce in 2023 if current trends continue.

Nicole Woo, co-author of the study, says:

Considering the great boost to pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

The CEPR report comes 50 years after the release of American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.”  On Tuesday, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler will take part in a Labor Department symposium, 50 Years Later: Women, Work and the Work Ahead, commemorating the anniversary.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Cleveland Teachers Give Thousands of Books to Local Latino Families

The impact of a child owning a book cannot be overstated, which is why on July 25, the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) partnered with community group Esperanza to donate more than 6,000 books to Latino families in the area.  The event was held in conjunction with the First Book National Book Bank and was part of a community fair that included face painting, hot dogs and other activities organized and staffed by CTU members.

One child, Maria, immediately picked up a book and dove right into reading. Her eyes lit up as she saw the illustrations, said event organizer and CTU member Jillian Ahrens. “She asked if she could have the book and when we responded, ‘of course,’ she had the biggest smile on her face”.

“The turnout was incredible,” said Ahrens.”Having families, educators and children come together to celebrate books and reading was a great way to connect.”

Ahrens went on to talk about the importance of the event:

During the summer, a lot of our families and students may not have access to books. This contributes to summer learning loss. This summer event not only brought much-needed resources to the students of Cleveland, but it also infused the children with a sense of excitement and joy to engage them in reading. The event helped keep students reading over the summer, which will help them as they begin school this fall. By igniting the love of reading within families and children, this event can help set the stage for future academic success.

Books were given out in CTU bags which created a visual impact that could be seen for several blocks around the event, drawing in more people.

Esperanza is a community organization serving the city’s Latino population. CTU says it plans to continue working with First Book during the upcoming school year.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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From the Cheap Seats: House of Cards Stacks the Deck

As a hardcore DC political junkie and fervent Kevin Spacey fan, I was thrilled when Netflix released the entire first season of House of Cards earlier this year. (Netflix’s experiment is paying off already, with a number of Emmy nominations for this original series.) Veep and Scandal were intermittently amusing but no match for The West Wing‘s fly-on-the-wall insights into the political issues of the day, and even WW jumped the proverbial shark the last couple of years, before closing up shop for good in 2006.

And the first couple of episodes of House of Cards were promising indeed, as Spacey, playing a Democratic congressman out to wreak revenge after being passed over for appointment to Secretary of State, chewed up familiar DC political scenery with obvious relish. A southern Democrat (his character, Frank Underwood, is from South Carolina’s 5th District), Spacey was gleefully non-partisan in his quest for retribution, skewering his own party colleagues as well as Republican opponents.

With so many juicy political targets these days, I looked forward to enjoying seeing how Spacey would humiliate his next hapless – and deserving – victim.

Which turned out to be…the teacher’s union. Say wha?

The far-right Tea Party has hijacked the GOP, Walmart execs are bribing Mexican officials, BP’s egregious negligence blew up Deepwater, the zillionaire Koch brothers are buying up state legislatures left and right and the big bad bogeyman that Kevin Spacey savages (literally, at one point) for three painful episodes is the union representing the folks who teach our kids?

Look, I’m not saying unions should always be portrayed as heroes (though wouldn’t that be a lovely change of pace?) or that they should get a pass. And the specific issue raised in House of Cards – school reform – is a complex one with strong opinions on many sides, sometimes even within the labor movement and certainly among our members, who are parents as well as union members themselves.

But a show as sophisticated as House of Cards can do so much better than trotting out the same old “union boss“ that was a tired stereotype years ago. At its best, The West Wing showed us how our democracy, flawed and imperfect as it is, could work for all of us. These are darker, more difficult times, but even a show like House of Cards, which revels so entertainingly in the seamy underbelly of that same system, can help by showing us who’s really skulking about in those dark alleys behind the Chamber of Commerce.

And sorry, Kevin, it ain’t the teachers.

Garlock, Union Cities Mobilizer for the Metro Washington Council, directs the annual DC Labor FilmFest.

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Hostess Brands Returns to Snack Cake Market, Will Not Hire the Professional Bakers

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) President David B. Durkee issued the following statement in response to the impending re-entry by Hostess Brands, LLC, into the snack cake market:

“This coming week, Hostess Brands, LLC, is expected to re-enter the wholesale snack cake market.  Despite the fanfare, the long-term viability of this effort is highly uncertain. Rather than hire professional, experienced bakers who have produced quality snack cakes in the company’s bakeries for decades, Hostess management has chosen instead to hire primarily workers with little or no experience in the demanding wholesale snack cake baking industry.

“The BCTGM has consistently stated our interest in working cooperatively and productively with the new owners of this company.  We have always maintained that the experience, skill and professionalism of our members offer the new owners, who have no experience in the wholesale snack cake business, the best chance for long-term success in consistently putting out a quality product.

“Compare Hostess’ approach to that taken by the U.S. Baking Company, a 107-year old wholesale bread and cake company based in Portland, Ore., which bought the former Hostess assets in the Northwest.  The company, with which the BCTGM has had a longstanding collective bargaining relationship, decided that the most effective way to achieve a seamless re-entry into the marketplace was to reopen the former Hostess bakery in Billings, Mont., with the professional bakers who knew the product and the bakery the best.

“The BCTGM and U.S. Baking recently negotiated a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement and the bakery is up and running, producing high-quality products. In fact, the workers there are earning more in wages in the first year of the contract than they were when Hostess closed the bakery last year.

“Last year’s demise of Hostess was due in large measure to critical mistakes made by a series of management teams that simply did not have any meaningful experience in the wholesale bread and cake baking business.  To avoid the same fate, the BCTGM encourages the two private equity firms that own Hostess Brands, LLC, to change their approach and work with our union and our members in a cooperative manner.  This is their best hope for long-term success.

“As the process moves forward, the BCTGM remains committed to taking all appropriate and necessary steps to protect the rights of our members and all Hostess Brands workers.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Stop in the Name of Love—of Country

Guest post by Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers. This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

The conduct of the New York State Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in rehabilitating the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge can only be described as anti-American.

The MTA plans to send $235.7 million of Americans’ hard-earned toll dollars to China for foreign steel and foreign fabrication to renovate a bridge over the Hudson River that Americans built with American steel and American fabrication 50 years ago.

The MTA must stop. It must stop converting this American landmark — the longest suspension bridge in North America – into a foreign-made object. The MTA must stop. It must stop eroding American manufacturing, spurning American workers and wounding the American economy. The MTA must immediately stop stimulating the Chinese economy, employing Chinese workers with American toll dollars, transferring technological skills overseas and heightening Chinese power over America by enlarging the trade deficit. The MTA must stop, now, and buy American.

It’s the MTA’s contention that it can dodge buy American requirements because it is repairing the bridge with toll dollars, not tax dollars. The MTA used this contrivance to buy 15,000 tons of steel plate from state-owned and subsidized Anshan Iron & Steel Group of China and fabrication work from the China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group.

Responding to criticism that MTA, a government agency, shirked buy American requirements, the authority’s executive director Thomas F. Prendergast said American corporations and workers weren’t capable of doing the work. America is not number one, Prendergast said. American manufacturers and American workers are just not as competent as the Chinese, according to the MTA.

This is exactly what Caltrans contended when it purchased Chinese steel and Chinese manufacturing for the Bay Bridge construction in California – after refusing federal aid so it could duck buy American provisions. Americansjust couldn’t do the work, Caltrans contended. And yet, American firms that bid on the project said they could. Caltrans ended up sending dozens of experts to China to babysit its contractors there; inspectors repeatedlydiscovered defects in welds, and the steel arrived from China 15 months late.

Caltrans said the bid from the consortium of American firms was too high, and the proposal would have delayed the project. But with hundreds of millions in cost overruns and a year’s delay attributable to the foreign purchases,the difference between the two bids at this point is negligible.

But it’s too late now. Caltrans denied American corporations the contracts, American workers the jobs, the American economy the boost. Caltrans contributed to the bleeding of American manufacturing jobs, 6,000 of which were lost just last month. MTA plans to join Caltrans in thwarting the Obama administration’s effort to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs.

With precious little effort, the United Steelworkers found two American bridge fabricators that said they could meet MTA’s requirements for specialized orthotropic steel decking for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Both are located in eastern Pennsylvania within 100 miles of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge site.

One was cleared by a bonding company, lined up financing and prepared to meet the MTA’s construction schedule.Also in eastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh University’s Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems Center tested full-scale prototypes of the orthotropic steel panels for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Both American bridge fabricators were prepared to use American-made steel, which would employ Americans in good, family-supporting jobs in mills that are required to control emissions and that wouldn’t have contributed to pollution by hauling steel halfway around the world.

MTA ignored all that and went to China for the steel and fabrication. It ignored Americans’ strong desire for government agencies to buy American, with 90 percent of Republicans and Democrats supporting buy American for public works projects. MTA ignored untold hidden costs of buying foreign — including pollution, quality concerns and delays.

And while claiming American companies and American workers are not up to snuff, MTA overlooked the fact that Ansteel of the Anshan Iron & Steel Group has never before produced steel plate of the type required for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge project. And the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Staten Island and Brooklyn would beonly the second in the United States for China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Group. In fact, Anshan officials toldthe Wall Street Journal that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge project would be a test to determine whether its steel bridges “can go out into the world.”

The MTA decided to go to China even though eight bridges collapsed in China in little over a year, including one of the longest in Northern China, the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin last August. That $300 million span was only nine months old.

The MTA has tried to reassure protesters, including Republican and Democrat New York state lawmakers, that there is no risk. Prendergast told them all not to worry, no problem. “The safety of the public is always our paramount concern,” Prendergast contends – exactly what Caltrans said.

MTA officials and construction management staff went to China to make sure everything is ok, Prendergast says. Steel was tested with “good results.” Not great results. But, you know, good ones. Further tests will be done in the United States, Prendergast says. He pledges that MTA will maintain at the Chinese plant “a full time quality assurance presence,” whatever that means.

The upshot is that MTA and its construction manager will pay to send experts and staff to China to try to ensure good quality work, the same way Caltrans did. That’s a costly proposition. In addition, it means that these American professionals will transfer their technical knowledge and skill and expertise to a Chinese company. China won’t have to steal it. MTA plans to give it away.

These same MTA experts and consultants could have been sent less than 100 miles to one of two Pennsylvania firms to oversee quality control and collaborate with American manufacturers.

Any technical skill transfer then would have stayed within the United States, increasing American companies’ ability to complete such infrastructure projects in the future.

The MTA needs to stop this project right now. Think it over, Prendergast.

You can take action on this issue by visiting the New York State AFL-CIO Facebook page and sharing one of their graphics to voice your opposition to this project.

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What Would a Broad and Inclusive Labor Movement Look Like?

Join Dorian Warren on Wednesday, June 26, from 2–3 p.m. EDT for the eighth in the AFL-CIO series of live online discussions on how we build a movement for the future of working people. The AFL-CIO and Warren, an assistant professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, want to hear your ideas on new ways the labor movement can open its doors to people who aren’t in a union. He poses this question:

What would a broad and inclusive labor movement look like and do, and what would it need to provide for you to join it?

You can go to our discussion page and give us your thoughts now, and be sure to come back for the live chat.

Your responses to the questions activists, educators, economists and journalists will be asking through June will help us prepare for the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, which will focus on how we build a movement that can meet the needs of working people now and in the future.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Tell Us: How Can We Raise Awareness About the Need to Improve Wages and Working Conditions?

Join Saru Jayaraman on Wednesday, June 12, from 2–3 p.m. EDT for the sixth in the AFL-CIO series of live online discussions on how we build a movement for the future of working people. Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United—and the AFL-CIO—want to hear your ideas. She poses this question:

How can we create a culture shift and raise the consciousness of America’s public about the need to improve wages and working conditions?

You can go to our discussion page and give us your thoughts now and be sure to come back for the live chat.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo from Saru Jayaraman on Facebook

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