AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on President Obama’s 2015 Budget Proposal

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“I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American.” – President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 28, 2014

Yes it is. Through a budget with fairer taxes and a commitment to making real investments in America, the President is beginning to put muscle behind those words.

Our nation needs Washington to engage in a broader conversation about full employment and raising wages. And President Obama’s proposals to invest in jobs, raise the minimum wage, expand the EITC, close tax loopholes for the wealthy and provide access to universal pre-kindergarten are good starting points to seriously address inequality.

However, we cannot afford cuts to Medicare beneficiaries or elimination of a separate program for workers who lose their jobs due to trade. Furthermore, to best address income inequality we must ensure that all workers – union or not – have the power to collectively bargain with their employers to get their fair share of the wealth they help create.

Ultimately,this is a turning point away from harmful austerity policy towards a future of shared prosperity. And it’s a future working people will fight for. We applaud the president.

AFL-CIO President Is “Disappointed By The Lack Of Progress” In TPP Negotiations

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Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministerial Meeting in Singapore

Richard_TrumkaWe are troubled by today’s announcement that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment talks are nearing completion, as working families have raised many concerns about this trade deal.

As the Administration moves quickly to finalize the still-secret text of the TPP agreement, we are deeply concerned that in key areas this agreement is on track to mirror problematic or inadequate provisions in previous trade deals.

First, it appears that mandatory, enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation will not be included. In fact, the Administration has indicated it is not seeking these provisions, despite strong bipartisan support from Congress.

Second, we have proposed that the Obama Administration use the TPP negotiations to strengthen, streamline, and clarify the labor and environmental provisions negotiated by Congress and the Bush Administration (the so-called “May 10” language). We have seen little indication from published reports and leaked text that this is a likely outcome. In fact, given the difficulty of completing these negotiations, there is a significant risk that both the labor and environmental provisions, as well as their enforcement mechanisms, could be weakened in the final language. We urge our government to press for strengthening these provisions, and under no circumstances to weaken or dilute them.

We are disappointed by the lack of progress in including strong language disciplining State-Owned Enterprises, creating strong rules of origin and protecting Buy American programs.

The Administration is simultaneously pushing for “Fast Track” trade authority as these negotiations near conclusion. Given how far along the TPP negotiations are, “Fast Track” seems increasingly irrelevant, certainly in giving the Administration “marching orders” or negotiating guidelines.

America’s workers don’t oppose trade—but we are entitled to know that the rules of the TPP aren’t rigged against workers, communities, family farms, and small businesses. Unfortunately, as the TPP marches toward conclusion with minimal public scrutiny, it looks less and less likely that it’s going to be a fair deal for workers.

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka On the Gap Increasing Wages and the Question of Walmart

Richard Trumka (The Nation / AP-Photo)

Gap’s announcement that it will raise its own minimum wage to $9.00 an hour in 2014 and $10 an hour next year represents a major victory by working people in their growing campaign to raise wages and working standards. While Gap has more work to do both in the United States and with its supply chain in countries like Bangladesh, this wage increase is a turning point.

The Gap’s decision exposes the greatest economic fraud of our time: that large employers cannot pay their employees fair wages.  With one decision, the Gap has stripped the oligarch of his clothes and changed the economic debate in America.

So now Wal-Mart is exposed.  The landscape is clear.  What will the largest employer in our country, owned by the world’s richest family, do?

Walmart workers have been protesting and striking, demanding justice.  What is Walmart’s answer?

As a first small step, Walmart workers, like all workers need a federal minimum wage of at least $10.10 an hour.  But Walmart can do better than that.  It must agree to its workers demands to stop using low wages and abusive scheduling practices to condemn its workers to poverty – and agree to the $25,000 a year minimum.

Then we can start to get to work.  Everything that should constitute a normal working life – from a national living wage to paid sick days, among  many other improvements – should move forward swiftly and with genuine purpose under the  combined leadership of Wal-Mart, all of corporate America, and the labor movement.

The AFL-CIO, and all American workers, are ready to meet the challenge of falling wages and rising inequality that has been growing painfully for decades.  The Gap has issued an invitation to Wal-Mart, and offered America a new path forward.  Will Wal-Mart respond and join the tens of millions who deserve a better future?

New Poll: Strong Support for Raising Wages in 2014 Battleground States

Image from M.Scott Mahaskey:POLITICO

Gains for Candidates Who Support Critical Issue

View the Poll http://bit.ly/McBmJn

“Politicians who ignore the surging interest in raising wages do so at their own peril”

(Houston, TX) – Voters in five diverse, politically crucial states have made their priorities emphatically clear: they want political leaders, especially at the gubernatorial level, to focus squarely on wages, living standards and fair treatment.

A new poll conducted by Hart Research Associates found that nearly 60 percent of voters in the 2014 battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are dissatisfied with their state’s economy. A full 91 percent of respondents say that they are falling behind economically or just keeping even. By an overwhelming 72-23 margin, voters are asserting that raising wages is “good for the state” and soundly reject the notion that it would hurt the state by increasing prices or costing jobs. Ultimately, the poll concludes that candidates have a lot to gain by making wages a central element in their economic agenda and campaign messages.

“Voters are way ahead of politicians on the issue of raising wages,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “From the minimum wage to paid sick leave to wage theft, voters across America are elevating basic paycheck issues to a new national prominence. Politicians who ignore the surging interest in raising wages do so at their own peril.”

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, currently meeting in Houston, has made the issue of raising wages a centerpiece of their work. The Council will be integrating raising wages into all aspects: from politics to immigration and organizing. This new poll reinforces the fact that the American public shares in these goals.

“America’s attention is more focused on workers, wages and fairness than ever in my lifetime,” Trumka said. “Behind this energy and commitment, the possibilities are enormous for working people.”

View the new poll results at http://bit.ly/McBmJn 

From February 8 to 11, 2014, Hart Research Associates conducted a survey of 1,012 registered voters in five gubernatorial battleground states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The survey explored voters’ economic concerns, and how those might impact their voting preferences this year. Approximately 200 interviews were conducted by telephone (landline and cell) in each state, with the overall sample weighted to reflect the actual voter population by state. The margin of error is ±3.1 percentage points for the overall survey, and higher for subgroups. This memo reviews the survey’s key findings.

Private-Sector Union Membership Grows in 2013

Richard Trumka (The Nation / AP-Photo)

Public-sector workers remain under attack; Unions grow in the South;
Total percentage of workforce unchanged

(Washington, D.C.) In 2013 the total number of workers in unions rose by 162,000 compared with 2012, led by an increase of 281,000 workers in private-sector unions. There were strong gains in construction and manufacturing, against a background of strike actions by low-wage workers in the private sector.  But destructive, politically motivated layoffs of public-sector workers continued to hurt overall public-sector union membership, leaving the total percentage of the workforce that is unionized virtually unchanged.

“Wall Street’s Great Recession cost millions of America’s workers their jobs and pushed already depressed wages down even further.  But in 2013, America’s workers pushed back,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said of the figures released Friday by the Department of Labor. “At the same time, these numbers show that as unorganized workers have taken up the fight for their right to a voice on the job, union employers are hiring—creating good jobs our economy desperately needs.”

Despite the overall gains of 2013, workers in the public sector continued to bear the brunt of the continuing economic crisis, weak labor laws and political assaults on their rights on the job.  In Wisconsin, political attacks on public-sector workers’ right to collectively bargain resulted in bargaining coverage falling. Broadly, federal, state and local governments continued to lay off needed public workers, leading to an overall loss of 118,000 union members.

“Make no mistake, the job of rebuilding workers’ bargaining power and raising wages for the 99% has a long way to go,” said Trumka. “Collective action among working people remains the strongest, best force for economic justice in America. We’re building a stronger, more innovative movement to give voice to the values that built this country. From Walmart workers to fast food workers to homecare workers, the rising up of workers’ voices against inequality – both inside and outside of traditional structures – is the story of 2013.”

The AFL-CIO Shows Strong Opposition To The Trans-Pacific Partnership

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Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

The Trade Promotion Authority bill submitted today by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and Senate Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch is out of date, poorly conceived, and bad for American workers. For that reason, the AFL-CIO opposes this legislation in the strongest of terms and will actively work to block its passage.

It is past time for the United States to get off the corporate hamster wheel on trade.  This legislation renews the undemocratic “trade promotion” process and completely fails to provide the transparency, accountability, and oversight necessary for the far-reaching trade and investment agreements that the Administration is negotiating, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of NAFTA, which was only the first in a series of trade agreements that have undermined millions of middle-class American jobs and weakened our democratic structures.  So it is ironic that this year the supporters of that failed model are bringing forward a fast track trade promotion bill to bring us more of the same: more trade deals that strengthen corporate power and CEO profits, while putting downward pressure on wages and opportunities for the rest of us; more outsourced and offshored jobs and more attacks on domestic health and safety regulations.

America’s workforce deserves better than warmed over trade deals, which will do nothing to raise wages or reduce our $540 billion trade deficit.  The United States is long overdue for an overhaul of its trade priorities and trade practices.  Rather than focusing on empowering multinational corporations, we should be working to support domestic manufacturing jobs, fix our crumbling infrastructure, and rebuild a strong middle class.  This fast track bill will do the opposite.

AFL-CIO President Trumka’s Statement On Senate Colture Vote on Unemployment Insurance

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Richard_TrumkaLast year, lawmakers appallingly deserted 1.3 million jobless workers and went home for their own holiday without extending unemployment insurance benefits. Today, the Senate took an important step to assist those still searching for work when it cleared the way for a temporary unemployment benefits bill.

Unemployment insurance serves as a lifeline for millions of jobless Americans and their families. For many job seekers, unemployment benefits are the difference between total hopelessness and a place to live and food on the table.

The urgent business before us now is fixing what’s wrong with our economy. Maintaining the unemployment benefits program won’t just keep families out of crisis. It helps to spur the economy and keep it growing.

The Senate should quickly act to pass this bill and the House must act immediately. Further failure will mean more than 3 million more qualified people who will be denied extended benefits. Millions of Americans counting on unemployment insurance to help them through tough times are counting on the House to do the right thing.  We cannot afford to leave any working families behind.

AFL-CIO Welcomes The Introduction Of The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act

Richard Trumka (The Nation / AP-Photo)

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act)

The AFL-CIO welcomes the introduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), which will grant families access to the paid leave they so desperately need. The FAMILY Act is not just aimed at working mothers; it will improve job security for all families who have to choose between caring for a family member and a paycheck at times of greatest stress. This bill will strengthen America’s workers and economy by providing income stability for all families.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12 percent of workers in the United States currently have access to paid family leave through their employers.  Without pay, most workers simply cannot afford to take off the time they need.  For a nation built on family values, this is unacceptable.

The FAMILY Act will be especially important to young workers, part-time and low-wage workers, regardless of their employer’s size or their duration on the job.  And the FAMILY Act will be a win for employers as well, because it will lower employee turnover rates and increase productivity, if passed.

The labor movement urges Congress to invest in our families, our economy and our country’s future by giving individuals a chance to take care of important family matters without risk of losing their jobs. A bill that is good for working families is a bill that is good for everyone.

Congress and Labor Call For Transparency From Corporations

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The Securities and Exchange Commission came under fire yesterday from organized labor and members of Congress.  Both took aim at what corporations are not telling the public.

New Hampshire Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, along with 32 other Congressmen, sent a letter to Mary Jo White, the Chairman of the SEC. (Click here to view the full letter.)  The letter calls for new SEC rule-making for publicly traded companies to disclose CEO pay and the ratio between CEO’s and their average employee.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve watched American workers become more productive than ever, only to see wages remain largely stagnant. Over those same decades, CEO pay has gone through the roof, rising from 42 times the average pay of workers in 1980 to 354 times that of the average worker today,” Shea-Porter said. “In 2012, the CEO of J.C. Penney (JCP) made 1,795 times that of the average JCP employee. It’s time for publicly traded companies to report on this disparity.”

The letter notes that it is important for investors to know the salaries of chief executives at publicly traded corporations. At the same time, it is essential that these salaries be contextualized through comparison with the median employee salary at the firm. The proposed rule also reflects public concern over disparate levels of executive compensation and the need to have this information available in an understandable format.

Peter Drucker, one of the 20th century’s best-known business theorists, wrote that the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was best kept between 20-1 and 25-1. One way to reduce without cutting CEO pay is to raise the wages of the average worker.

The 32 Members of Congress to sign the letter noted that they found no credibility in the idea that the burdens of documenting the ratio between CEO pay and median employee compensation will be too high. “Companies already track how much they spend on personnel including salary and benefits,” the letter reads. “Firms that set up advanced computers for high frequency trading or that master the concept of just-in-time inventory should be able to figure out the median salary using basic software.”

While Congress is trying to create more transparency in CEO pay, organized labor took aim at corporation’s political spending.

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, released the following statement:

We are disappointed that the Securities and Exchange Commission is not including a rulemaking to require disclosure of corporate political spending on its regulatory agenda for 2014.  The SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance had been previously scheduled to consider whether to recommend a proposed rule in 2013.

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we have seen a dramatic increase in political spending by corporations.  Yet much of this spending is not disclosed to investors who own public companies.  Without transparency, there is a danger that executives will spend money in ways that do not benefit investors.

Just as labor unions are legally required to publicly disclose their political spending, public companies should be held to the same standard. Nearly 700,000 individuals have written the SEC to support this requested rulemaking. We urge SEC to put corporate political spending disclosure back on its agenda for 2014.”

Many large companies are using their profits to sway political elections and then using their newly gained political clout to push for policies that only benefit the ultra-wealthy 1%.  Manly this is benefiting the corporations CEOs, while the company is taking more from the average worker for healthcare and benefits.

In the 2012 election there was an estimated $6 Billion dollars spent campaigning.  Most of that money was funneled through ‘Super PAC’s’ that do not have to disclose their donors.  Corporations donate millions of dollars to support candidates that will roll back workers rights and labor laws that greatly impact large employers.

We need more transparency from these corporations.  How is their money being used to influence the political process and how much they shell out to their CEO’s?  If we knew some of these details it would shed some light on how easy it would be for employers to raise the wages of the workers.

Working Families Can’t Afford Another Shutdown Style Crisis (by Richard Trumka & Mark Mackenzie)

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By Mark MacKenzie and Richard Trumka

NH AFL-CIO LogoLast month, we saw Washington at its worst. Driven by the Tea Party, Republican leaders, including Senator Ayotte, recklessly shut down our government and brought our nation to the brink of default. Ignoring voices of reason from working families across New Hampshire, some of our leaders in Congress listened to shouts of “shut it down” and inflicted unnecessary damage to our economy.

The shutdown cost 120,000 jobs in the first two weeks of October and will reduce economic growth by at least .25% in the fourth quarter. Here in New Hampshire it directly impacted 4,069 federal workers and countless residents who rely on federal services.

Thankfully, reason prevailed, Republican leaders relented and Congress appointed negotiators to work on a new budget agreement.

Now it’s on to the next fight in Washington.  But before we get caught up in another news cycle where extremists convince us we shouldn’t invest in our future, it is worth noting that a congressional budget is a vision. It is a blueprint that outlines our priorities as a nation. A good budget invests in America. It doesn’t rob our government of the resources it needs to succeed. A good budget properly funds its obligations and promotes the creation of well-paying jobs. It doesn’t bargain away protections for our seniors and it isn’t balanced on the backs of working families.

As Democrats and Republicans spend this month negotiating how to avoid another government shutdown, it is important to remind Washington politicians about what working families need.

The recovery is still being dragged down by the repeated budget crises manufactured by Republicans in Congress.  Budget austerity in the Tea Party Congress has already slowed annual economic growth by 0.7%, cost 1.2 million jobs, and increased the unemployment rate by 0.8%, according to Macroeconomic Advisers.

First, Congress should repeal the sequester it created, not replace it. The sequester’s dumb across-the-board cuts have hurt everything from education to child care to medical research. Here in New Hampshire, much attention has been given to the hardworking workers at our Shipyard and National Guard members who have faced furloughs as a result of defense cuts. But sequestration is also forcing layoffs and cutbacks to other critical programs that provide job training, education, and other services.

Repealing the sequester would generate 800,000 jobs by this time next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  The next budget should undo this painful damage— and not replace it with other harmful cuts.

Most importantly, policymakers in Washington must reject proposals to cut Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits.  They should avoid deficit hysteria promoted by billionaires and the 1%. Instead of terrifying our parents and grandparents with threats to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits they’ve earned, politicians should protect these vital programs that have shielded the elderly and vulnerable from poverty for generations. Our nation’s safety net should be strengthened, not weakened, because working people need more economic security, not less.

Instead, Congress should look to raise new revenue by repealing the tax subsidies that encourage corporations to send jobs overseas and ending special tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.  When the average CEO’s salary for the first morning on the job is the same amount the average worker makes in a year, it’s clear that the wealthiest Americans and corporations making record profits can pay their fair share.

Ending these undeserved and wasteful tax breaks would allow us to invest in our workforce and create the well-paying jobs millions so desperately need. By rebuilding our infrastructure, education, and manufacturing base, we can create good jobs with good benefits and provide relief to our struggling working and middle class. This is America, after all.  No job should trap anyone in a vicious cycle of poverty.

By focusing on helping working families instead of how to score political points, Congress can produce a budget that supports an economy that works for all. It is time for Senator Ayotte to realize that instead of shutting down progress, she needs to listen to the needs of the hardworking voters who sent her to Washington.

Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO. Mark MacKenzie is President of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.