18 September 2009

Trumka, Shuler, Holt Baker Hit the Road for Jobs, Fair Economy

The AFL-CIO's new leadership team isn't wasting a second. Hours after the close of the AFL-CIO 26th Constitutional Convention, they're riding the momentum of this week's high-energy union gathering with a listening tour across the country.

And they're starting in Ohio, the center of recent political battles and heart of the tough questions the nation faces about our economic future.

Today, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker held an energetic rally in Cleveland before fanning out across the state to hear from workers and fire up the union movement for the battles ahead.

Speaking at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Trumka said America's workers can and must take the lead in turning around the economic crisis that has hit the nation and particularly Ohio. All of us need to hold corporations accountable, not go back to an economy that's rigged against workers, Trumka said:
The labor movement will do everything in its power to help create good jobs....That's our most important goal. But when you buy into a community, you become part of the family. You have an obligation. Too many corporations today want to walk away from their communities, even companies that were nurtured right here in these same communities.

We need an economic system in this country that rewards work as well as it rewards investment. We need an economic system that gives everybody a fair opportunity to work hard and succeed.

02 September 2009

'Young Workers: A Lost Decade'

Something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can't afford to be on their own.

These are the findings of a new report, "Young Workers: A Lost Decade." Conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and our community affiliate Working America, the nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999. The deterioration of young workers' economic situation in those 10 years is alarming.

Nate Scherer, 31, is among today's young workers. Scherer lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he shares a home with his wife, his parents, brother and his partner. He spoke at a media conference at the AFL-CIO today to discuss the report.
After getting married, my wife and I decided to move in with my parents to pay off our bills. We could afford to live on our own but we'd never be able to get out of debt. We have school loans to pay off, too. We'd like to have children, but we just can't manage the expense of it right now...so we're putting it off till we're in a better place. My [work] position is on the edge, and I feel like if my company were to cut back, my position would be one of the first to go.

During yesterday's press briefing, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report's findings this way:
We're calling the report "A Lost Decade" because we're seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They've put off adulthood—put off having kids, put off education—and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.

Just last week we learned that about 1.7 million fewer teenagers and young adults were employed in July than a year before, hitting a record low of 51.4 percent.

As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said:
Young workers in particular must be given the tools to lead the next generation to prosperity. The national survey we're releasing today shows just how broken our economy is for our young people...and what's at stake if we don't fix it.

Some of the report's key findings include:

  • 31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don't have coverage because they can't afford it or their employer does not offer it.

  • Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.

  • Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than in 1999—while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills.

  • A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.

  • 37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can't afford it.

  • When asked who is most responsible for the country's economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.

  • By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.

  • Thirty-five percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there's not an election going on.

  • The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

Trumka, who is running for AFL-CIO president without announced opposition at our convention later this month, is making union outreach to young people a top priority. He said one of the report's conclusions is especially striking:
Young people want to be involved but they're rarely asked. Their priorities are even more progressive than the priorities of the older generation of working people, yet they aren't engaged by co-workers or friends to get involved in the economic debate.

Currently, 18-to-35-year-olds make up a quarter of union membership. And at the AFL-CIO Convention, we will ask Convention delegates to approve plans for broad recruitment of young workers, as well as plans for training and leadership of young workers who are currently union members. And that's just the beginning of a broad push towards talking and mobilizing young workers in the coming months and years.

According to the report, more than half of young workers say employees are more successful getting problems resolved as a group rather than as individuals, and employees who have a union are better off than employees in similar jobs who do not.

Read the full report here.

(Cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.)

20 August 2009

Union Actvism Protection

A big problem often faced in organizing drives is the intimidating impact of illegal worker firing. Here is how the management abuse works:
  1. Worker supports the union obviously enough that management finds out.
  2. Management fires the person even though it is illegal to fire workers for union activity.
  3. The worker has problems paying bills, etc.
  4. After the drive is resolved (for or against a new union), Management quietly settles and pays back wages for the illegal firing.
During the time between steps 2 and 4 other workers hear whispers that if they work with the union they'll "be next" and "how will they pay their bills?" etc...

This can obviously have a chilling impact on the drive.

That's the problem, here is my solution:

Create a special loan product that will pay the worker their normal wages until the drive is settled. The collateral for the loan is the backpay obligation from the employer (not including the penalty).

Possible Outcomes

Most of the time, backpay eventually arrives and the union is reimbursed. In this case, the worker gets money immediately and over the period from firing to settlement. Morale doesn't suffer. The worker keeps the penalty (or perhaps shares it with the union activism fund). The union loses the opportunity cost of the capital, but ends up with a lump sum. In this case the forgone interest on the small amount of money pales in comparison to the increased momentum on an organizing drive.

Some of the time though, backpay doesn't come through. Anyone know how often this happens? In that case the union has blunted the intimidation power of the firing but expends capital to do it.

On balance, it seems like the cumulative benefits in the more common cases exceed the costs in the rare bad case and organizing is strengthened in all cases.

Thoughts? Problems?

Trumka to Congress: Want Workers' Support? Back a Public Option

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka appeared on CNBC this morning for a frank talk about health care, politics and the future of the country.

As described this week in Huffington Post, Trumka is laying out a fundamental proposition: When it comes time for millions of union members to mobilize, educate other union members and get out the vote, they'll work on behalf of candidates who support real health care reform that provides quality, affordable health care to all and gives people the opportunity to choose a public health coverage plan alongside private options:
We finally said, look, this is the minimum. If you're going to do something, do something that works. If you're going to have health insurance reform, you must have a public option in it. if you don't, don't expect us to support you.

16 July 2009

The Employee Free Choice Act: From 2003 to Today

Members of Congress soon will cast votes that show us where they stand on the Employee Free Choice Act. As key senators engage in negotiations over the bill, supporters of workers’ freedom to form unions aren’t backing down on three key principles:

  • Workers need to have a real choice to form a union and bargain for a better life, free from intimidation.

  • We have to stop the endless delays and make sure workers can get a fair first contract.

  • There have to be real penalties for violating the law.

Over the past few months, opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have more than once declared the bill dead, but in fact we’re still working hard to to ensure labor law reform happens this year. We’ve come along way from where we were several years ago.

Here’s a timeline from 2003, when the AFL-CIO Executive Council offered a resolution in support of labor law reform, to the seating of Sen. Al Franken, whose first move was to co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act.

  • Feb. 26, 2003: The AFL-CIO Executive Council approves a resolution, “An Unprecedented Labor Movement Campaign in Support of the Freedom of Workers to Choose a Voice at Work,” which declares the union movement’s intention to do what is necessary for:

    …legal reform that protects the free and fair choice of employees to form a union without interference from management and enables more workers to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining.

  • Nov. 21, 2003: Rep. George Miller introduces H.R. 3169, the Employee Free Choice Act, in the House. Sen. Edward Kennedy introduces the same bill as S. 1925 in the Senate. Both were denied a committee vote by the Republican majority.

  • Dec. 10, 2003: Tens of thousands of union members, elected officials, religious leaders and community activists across the nation took part in more than 90 events in 72 cities, united by one message: Workers’ rights are human rights. The nationwide mobilization is the first in a series of annual actions in support of the Employee Free Choice Act held on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

  • April 19, 2005: Miller introduces the Employee Free Choice Act as H.R. 1696 in the House and Kennedy introduces it as S. 842 in the Senate. Again, both bills are blocked by the Republican majority and don’t receive a committee vote.

  • Dec. 10, 2005: Thousands of union members rally across the country in support of the workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain to commemorate International Human Rights Day.

  • Nov. 7, 2006: In the 2006 congressional elections, the union movement makes big strides in electing pro-working family, pro-Employee Free Choice Act candidates, with new pro-worker majorities in both the House and Senate.

  • Dec. 8-9, 2006: The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act takes center stage at the AFL-CIO Organizing Summit.

  • Feb 5, 2007: Miller introduces H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, in the House.

  • March 29, 2007: Kennedy introduces S. 1041, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 in the Senate.

  • March 1, 2007: U.S. House passes the Employee Free Choice Act in a 241-185 vote.

  • June 26, 2007: U.S. Senate votes 51-48 for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow it to be considered for a simple majority vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, 60 votes were required for cloture (agreement to vote on a bill), so a Republican minority in the Senate was able to block consideration of the bill.

  • March 4, 2008: The union movement kicks off the Million Member Mobilization campaign to gather support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

  • Nov. 4, 2008: Despite a desperate multi-million dollar corporate campaign against pro-worker candidates, the union movement wages its most successful-ever political mobilization campaign, helping to elect even more working-family friendly lawmakers to the House and Senate and Barack Obama, a Senate co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, to the White House.

  • Feb. 4, 2009: Union members and allies deliver some of the 1.5 million signatures they’ve gathered in support of the Employee Free Choice Act to Capitol Hill—exceeding the goals of the Million Member Mobilization campaign.

  • March 10, 2009: Employee Free Choice Act introduced in the House (as H.R. 1409), with 225 co-sponsors, and as S. 560 in the Senate, with 41 co-sponsors.

In short, we’ve pursued this critical legislative since Bush ran the nation along with a Republican Senate majority in Congress, until today, when our nationwide political mobilization resulted in the election of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and appointment of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, all of whom expressed support for the bill.

As the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff noted at a Netroots Nation event last month, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. But the opposition is well-funded and aggressive, and the broad coalition supporting the Employee Free Choice Act will need to fight harder than ever to make sure we get labor law reform that helps workers:

We started this six years ago, and I thought it was going to be a 20-year fight. We’ve accomplished so much in the face of such attacks, and all the money they’ve been able to spend has not been able to break it.

The campaign is vibrant and active, and all the forces of corporate America can’t stop it—and they’ve tried everything in their playbook.

(Cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.)

14 July 2009

Unions Lead Historic March in Arkansas for Employee Free Choice Act

Wanted to share this piece from the AFL-CIO's Stewart Acuff. Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

On Saturday, July 11, we made history in Arkansas. We--civil rights and community leaders, local elected officials, and union activists and leaders--1500 of us--held the largest-ever demonstration in Arkansas to demand that Sen. Blanche Lincoln vote for and support the Employee Free Choice Act.

We began at the iconic symbol of civil rights, Central High School integrated in 1958 by nine brave Black teenagers, with Steelworkers President Leo Gerard thundering workers rights are civil rights. Then African-American Little Rock Judge and Rev. Wendell Griffin told the story of his family and how life changed for the better when his father's job at a nonunionsawmill became union. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker talked about how the freedom struggle of the workers rights movemnt is an extension of the freedom struggle of the civil rights movement. African-American Little Rock State Senator State Senator Joyce Elliott welcome us to her district and talked about the fight to restore the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

After Sen. Elliott, USW President Gerard kicked off the mile long march in 100 degree heat to the State Capitol.

After the 45 minute march, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer and soon-to-be President Rich Trumka made the case for Sen. Lincoln to support the Employee Free Choice Act. With all the passion and vigor of his call a year ago for union members to support Barack Obama, Trumka talked about the unfinished business of freedom in America and he thanked labor's allies--the ministers and imams and other faith leaders, Interfaith Worker Justice, the local African-American elected officials and community organizations.

There were many more speeches in the course of that very hot midsummer day in Arkansas at the Capitol and at the subsequent catfish fry--more ministers, State Representatives Carrell and Nickels, Maxine Nelson, Chair of Arkansas ACORN all calling for Sen. Blanche Lincoln to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Strategists on both sides of the fight agree that Arkansas and its two moderate Democratic Senators is ground Zero in the history-making campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

July 11 had started with six buses picking up activists in Texarkana, Ft. Smith, and Pine Bluff taking them to meet the multitudes of Little Rock activists.

This huge and historic march is the latest in a series of tactics in Arkansas that are much more reminiscient of the modern Civil Rights movement than a typical legislative campaign. The AFL-CIO Employee Free Choice Act campaign has included a statewide 24-hour candlelight prayer vigil, a previous march and rally, mobilization of faith leaders, and other creative movement activities.

But on July 11, all other tactics were eclipsed by Arkansas' largest -ever march and rally.

19 June 2009

Iranian Teachers Enter the Fight

Looks like Iranian labor is starting to make its presence felt more. Through a good Iranian-American friend I got a translation of this statement from the Teachers Trade Association of Iran. It calls for the release of Ali-Reza Hashemi, the organization's director, who was arrested three days ago, most likely as part of a general crackdown on dissidents. Hashemi certainly has a record of militancy, he was arrested only last year after helping to organize a strike involving thousands of Iranian teachers (which is where the photo is from). As the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center reported at the time, about 70 percent of teachers live below the poverty line in Iran and teachers are paid well below the rates given for other government workers (one estimate showed they received about $100 less a month, a substantial sum considering their average monthly salary of $300). However, as of late April of this year, the Pay Parity Act had not been implemented, despite Ahmadinejad's promises (surprise!)

The statement is also significant because its the first I've seen of Iranian labor officially siding with the "Green Revolution" camp, stating that the "Teachers' Organization of Iran, further, supports the goals of Messrs. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and calls on the election authorities to annul this election and undertake a free election." This suggests a different tone than the more generalized initial statement from Khodro workers about the right to demonstrate.

Overall, the situation remains too in flux to be certain of much. However, it does seem significant that already established civil society groups, such as labor, are increasingly entering the fray. While a significant part of the power of the movement in Iran comes from its ability to continue and grow even when its leaders are imprisoned, the presence of existing organizational networks, especially those that can temporarily disrupt and even paralyze the economy, certainly should add strength to the overall struggle.

Here is a summary/translation of the teachers statement:

"Sazman-e Moalleman-e Iran" ("Teachers' Organization of Iran") is writing a statement protesting the arrest three days ago of its leader, Ali-Reza Hashemi. It expresses the view that the wave of arrests by the government will only serve to unite the people, etc. it says, "The only way out of this situation is to accept the request of the candidates and to honor the will and the vote of the people." It expresses extreme objection to the arrest of Hashemi and other activists and says that freeing those who have been arrested will serve to decrease the amount of conflict in the country. It also says "The Teachers' Organization of Iran, further, supports the goals of Messrs. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and calls on the election authorities to annul this election and undertake a free election."