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Verizon’s Union Workers To Stay On The Job And Continue To Fight For A Fair Contract

 Despite $18 Billion in Profits in Last 18 Months, Verizon Still Insisting on Slashing Job Security, Health Care, and Retirement Security;

Unions Will Continue to Fight for Good Jobs, FiOS Buildout, and Quality Service

With Company Refusing to Bargain Seriously, Union Bargaining
Teams Leave Round-the-Clock Talks; Unions Remain Prepared to Bargain

New York – Leaders of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced that 39,000 Verizon workers up and down the East Coast will work without a contract when their collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight tonight, and continue their fight for a fair agreement while on the job.  

The union leaders also announced that they will leave the sites of round-the-clock bargaining in Philadelphia and Rye, NY, where union and management teams have been meeting since June 22nd in what has so far been a vain attempt to reach a contract.  The unions have informed the company, however, that they are prepared to schedule regular bargaining sessions, and urged the company to begin bargaining constructively.

“Despite our best efforts, Verizon refuses to engage in serious bargaining towards a fair contract,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President for CWA District One, which represents Verizon workers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.  “Verizon has earned $1billion a month in profits over the last 18 months, and paid its top handful of executives $249 million over the last 5 years, but continues to insist on eliminating our job security and driving down our standard of living.  We’re not going to take it, and we’re going to keep the fight going while we’re on the job.”

“The company has barely moved off its initial June 22nd proposal that made outrageous demands of Verizon workers.  If this company is serious about reaching an agreement, it needs to start bargaining constructively and now, “said Ed Mooney, Vice President for CWA District 2-13, whi ch represents Verizon workers from Pennsylvania to Virginia.  “Right now there isn’t even anyone across the table from us who’s got the power to make any decisions.”   

Verizon has not significantly moved off its outrageous initial bargaining demands, made on June 22nd, which includes the following proposals: 

  • Completely eliminating job security and gaining the right to transfer workers at will anywhere in the company’s footprint.
  • Increasing workers’ health care costs by thousands of dollars per person, despite the fact that negotiations in 2011-2012 have cut the company’s health care costs by tens of millions of dollars over the life of the past contract.
  • Removing any restrictions on the company’s right to contract out and offshore union jobs.  This comes on top of Verizon’s outsourcing of thousands of jobs in recent years.
  • Slashing retirement security.
  • Reducing overtime and differential payments.
  • Eliminating the Family Leave Care plan, which provides unpaid leave to care for sick family members or care for a newborn.
  • Eliminating the Accident Disability Plan, which provides benefits to workers injured on the job.

At the same time, Verizon refuses to build out FiOS to many underserved communities up and down the East Coast, and has abandoned upkeep of the traditional landline network, leading to extensive service problems for consumers.  In these negotiations, the union members’ interest is linked directly to the public interest, since our jobs involve maintaining quality service on traditional landlines and building and servicing Verizon’s state of the art FiOS broadband network.  Even in New York City, where Verizon pledged to make FiOS available to every customer by the end of 2014, the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications issued a report finding that the company was evading the buildout commitments it made under its 2008 video franchise agreement.

“86% of our members have voted to authorize a strike if necessary, but we’re not going to walk into a trap set by Verizon.  We’ll strike when we think it is the right time to strike, and that is not tonight,” Mooney added.  “The ball is in their court – we are waiting for them to get serious.”

Background on negotiations

39,000 workers are currently negotiating new contracts at Verizon.  Fortune Magazine ranked Verizon the 15th largest corporation in America in 2014, with revenues of $127 billion, profits of $9.6 billion, and market capitalization of $198.4 billion. Verizon had profits of $28 billion over the last five years, and paid its top five executives $249 million during that time. 

On July 21st, Verizon reported profits of $4.4 billion in 2Q2015 on revenues of $32.2 billion. This came on top of $4.2 billion in profits in 1Q2015, which means Verizon has made $1 billion in profits every month for the last 18 months. The company also reported that during the first six months of 2015 it has paid out over $9.3 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks, an increase of almost $5.8 billion over the first half of last year. In the Wireline division, Operating Cash Flow rose to 23.5%, and operating income doubled, from 2.6% to 5.3%. FiOS continues to expand and succeed, now constituting 79% of Verizon consumer revenues on the wireline side, and achieving penetration rates of 35.7% for video and 41.4% for internet in markets where it is competing.

A damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process.  

In addition, rates for basic telephone service have increased in recent years, even as Verizon has refused to expand their broadband services into many cities and rural communities, and service quality has greatly deteriorated. Verizon’s declining service quality especially impacts customers who cannot afford more advanced cable services, or who live in areas with few options for cable or wireless services.

In 2005, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) eliminated automatic fines for Verizon’s telephone service quality failures, reasoning that “competition” would improve services.  Instead, service quality plunged. In the 3rd quarter of 2010, Verizon cleared only 1.2% of out of service complaints within 24 hours, almost 79 percentage points lower than the PSC’s 80% requirement.  Rather than reverse course, the PSC changed its measurements, cutting out 92% of customers from service quality measurements and consolidating 28 repair service bureaus into 5 regions.  On paper, terrible service quality was almost miraculously transformed. In reality, service quality continued to decline. 

Communications Workers of America Statement on Verizon Contract Talks

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New York – With collective bargaining agreements between Verizon and 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) expiring at midnight tonight, the Communications Workers of America announced today that they had put a constructive, comprehensive new bargaining proposal across the table at negotiations in Rye, NY that would offer the company significant healthcare and retiree cost savings. The proposal was made last night and union bargainers are currently waiting for a response from Verizon.

“It’s time for management to get serious, and back off its insistence on slashing the living standards of our members,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President for CWA District One, which covers Verizon workers from New Jersey to Massachusetts.  “Verizon made $1 billion in profits every single month for 18 straight months and paid their top executives $249 million in the last five years.  Only their unrestrained corporate greed stands in the way of a fair contract settlement.” 

In Philadelphia, the bargaining committee in negotiations for the mid-Atlantic bargaining units has reported it has yet to see any indication of substantive movement from the Company.

“The company hasn’t moved off its initial June 22nd proposal that made outrageous demands of Verizon workers.  If this company is serious about reaching an agreement, it needs to start bargaining constructively and now, “said Ed Mooney, President for CWA District 2-13, whi ch represents Verizon workers from Pennsylvania to Virginia.  “Right now there isn’t even anyone across the table from us who’s got the power to make any decisions.”   

Verizon has refused to budge from its outrageous initial bargaining proposal, made on June 22nd, which includes the following contract changes: 

  • Completely eliminating job security and gaining the right to transfer workers at will anywhere in the company’s footprint.
  • Increasing workers’ health care costs by thousands of dollars per person, despite the fact that negotiations in 2011-2012 have cut the company’s health care costs by tens of millions of dollars over the life of the past contract.
  • Removing any restrictions on the company’s right to contract out and offshore union jobs.  This comes on top of Verizon’s outsourcing of thousands of call center jobs in recent years.
  • Slashing retirement security.
  • Reducing overtime and differential payments.
  • Eliminating the Family Leave Care plan, which provides paid leave to care for sick family members or care for a newborn.
  • Eliminating the Accident Disability Plan, which provides benefits to workers injured on the job.

At the same time, Verizon refuses to build out FiOS to many underserved communities up and down the East Coast, and has abandoned upkeep of the traditional landline network, leading to extensive service problems for consumers.  In these negotiations, the union members’ interest is linked directly to the public interest, since our jobs involve maintaining quality service on traditional landlines and building and servicing Verizon’s state of the art FiOS broadband network.  Even in New York City, where Verizon pledged to make FiOS available to every customer by the end of 2014, the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications issued a report finding that the company was evading the buildout commitments it made under its 2008 video franchise agreement. 

“86% of our members have voted to authorize a strike if necessary, but we remain hopeful that Verizon will negotiate a contract that increases maintenance of landlines, builds new high-speed fiber and pays the men and women who work for Verizon a decent wage with healthcare and retirement security,” Mooney added.  “The ball is in their court – we will see tonight if they are serious.” 

Background on Contract Negotiations 

39,000 workers are currently negotiating new contracts at Verizon.  Fortune Magazine ranked Verizon the 15th largest corporation in America in 2014, with revenues of $127 billion, profits of $9.6 billion, and market capitalization of $198.4 billion. Verizon had profits of $28 billion over the last five years, and paid its top five executives $249 million during that time. 

On July 21st, Verizon reported profits of $4.4 billion in 2Q2015 on revenues of $32.2 billion. This came on top of $4.2 billion in profits in 1Q2015, which means Verizon has made $1 billion in profits every month for the last 18 months. The company also reported that during the first six months of 2015 it has paid out over $9.3 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks, an increase of almost $5.8 billion over the first half of last year. In the Wireline division, Operating Cash Flow rose to 23.5%, and operating income doubled, from 2.6% to 5.3%. FiOS continues to expand and succeed, now constituting 79% of Verizon consumer revenues on the wireline side, and achieving penetration rates of 35.7% for video and 41.4% for internet in markets where it is competing.

Related:

CWA Launches Radio Ads in Seven Regions Slamming Verizon’s Failure to Develop FiOS Broadband Service

New York State Mayors Join CWA at Bargaining Table, Tell Verizon to Stop Stalling on FiOS

AFT Members Voice Their Support For Hillary Clinton In Latest AFT VIDEO

 (image Keith Kissel FLIKR)

(image Keith Kissel FLIKR)

A few weeks back, the American Federation of Teachers announced their overwhelming support of Secretary Hillary Clinton for President of United States.

“In vision, in experience and in leadership, Hillary Clinton is the champion working families need in the White House,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Hillary Clinton is a tested leader who shares our values, is supported by our members, and is prepared for a tough fight on behalf of students, families and communities. That fight defines her campaign and her career. In Arkansas, Hillary fought to expand access to early childhood education and care. As first lady, she fought for the right to affordable, high-quality healthcare and helped win that right for our youngest citizens. As senator, she fought for education funding and workers’ rights, and she defended public service workers who came to our nation’s defense on Sept. 11. And as secretary of state, she promoted democracy throughout the world, lifting up the worth and dignity of all people—men and women, gay and straight.”

Upon learning of the union’s endorsement, Clinton said, “For nearly a century, the American Federation of Teachers has worked to expand opportunity for the people and communities they serve. I’m honored to have the support of AFT’s members and leaders, and proud to stand with them to unleash the potential of every American.”

On the heels of the American Federation of Teachers’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president, she addressed nearly 2,000 educators via video at the AFT’s biennial TEACH conference in Washington, D.C.

Click here to watch the video on Youtube.

“Together, I know we can build a stronger, fairer, more inclusive America—an America where parents can give their kids real opportunities,” said Clinton in a two-minute address that outlined her agenda for expanding early childhood education, ensuring college affordability, and working with teachers to improve public education.

There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton will make a great President and can see why the American Federation of Teachers would endorse such a strong, passionate, dedicated woman to be their candidate.

Though some have criticized AFT’s early endorsement, the process was highly democratic.  AFT used scientific polling, online and over the phone, to connect with over 1 million of their 1.7 million members.  79% of the one million members reached wanted AFT to endorse Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday, AFT released this video highlighting real members at their recent TEACH convention personally endorsing Hillary Clinton for President.  Each member points to a specific moment of event that helped them decide that they were “ready for Hillary.”

All of the members highlighted Hillary Clinton’s strong understand of the issues facing teachers in the classroom, their rights as union members, and helping to rebuild a strong middle class.

New York State Mayors Join CWA at Bargaining Table, Tell Verizon to Stop Stalling on FiOS

 Elected Officials Representing More Than a Million NYers Write Letters to Verizon Leadership, Demand Action

With Days Remaining Before Contract Expiration, CWA and IBEW Demand Good Jobs, and Verizon Commitment to Good Service and FiOS for All 

Rye, New York – With days remaining before the contract between Verizon and its 39,000 unionized workers, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo joined the workers at a bargaining session with Verizon in Rye, New York.  At the same time, four other elected officials from across New York State wrote letters calling on Verizon to stop ignoring their communities’ need for high-speed internet and television service. 

The unprecedented visit and supportive letters from the Mayors of Albany, Utica and Rome and the Town Supervisor of Brookhaven demonstrate the common cause between the workers and customers around the state who are fed up with Verizon leaving them behind.  Verizon is refusing to build its state-of-the-art FiOS network in lower-income areas, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers at the mercy of their local cable monopoly, while at the same time letting its copper landline network deteriorate. 

In New York City, a damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process.  

The calls to build out FiOS come as the build-out of FiOS has become a bargaining issue between the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Verizon as they negotiate a new contract.  The contract expires at 12 midnight on Saturday August 1 and covers 39,000 CWA and IBEW represented telephone workers from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Read more about possible Verizon strike and the radio ads CWA is running about “Verizon’s Failure to Develop FiOS Broadband Service.

Nashua Teachers Union Recommends Jim Donchess for Mayor

Teachers Back Donchess for His Strong Commitment to Education
and Proven Record of Supporting Nashua’s Schools.

NASHUA—Today, the Nashua Teachers Union announced its endorsement of Jim Donchess in his campaign for Mayor, asking its members and their families and neighbors who reside in Nashua to support Donchess during his campaign and in the September 8th Primary Election.

The Nashua Teachers Union is made up of teachers in the Nashua school district, and is a municipal affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire (AFT-NH). AFT-NH Local 1044 President Bob Sherman, among numerous other educators, cited Donchess’ unwavering commitment to education.

“After reviewing all of the candidates who submitted their responses to the Teachers Union Committee on Political Education (COPE) questionnaire on education, the COPE Committee voted almost unanimously to support Jim. Given his longstanding record on and commitment to education in Nashua, we know that Jim is the right choice,” said AFT-NH Local 1044 President Bob Sherman.

“I’ve known Jim since our children were in elementary school together many years ago. His commitment to public education and learning has been the root of him as a citizen of Nashua and as a public servant. His support of education spans decades, and he is and has always been authentic and genuine in his commitment to our city,” says Nashua High School South teacher Judy Loftus. “In 2010, when he saw budget cuts that would have resulted in the loss of many teachers in Nashua, he and a group of citizens formed the organization Nashua Schools Back On Top. They advocated successfully to restore many of those cuts before the budget was finalized. We must elect Jim as Mayor to have a partner in City Hall who ensures that children and teachers in Nashua always have an advocate.”

“About a year ago Jim stopped by my house and we had a really in-depth conversation about education. I was, and have continued to be, very impressed by his outreach to Nashua residents and his commitment to children,” says Ledge Street Elementary School Teacher Sylvie Stewart. “Jim knows that the most beneficial way to improve Nashua is through working with educators to provide a high quality public-school education, one that meets the demands of all its children so that each child has the opportunity to thrive.”

“It’s an honor to have earned the support of Nashua’s teachers.  Education is the backbone of any community and when schools thrive, the community thrives and our economy thrives,” said Donchess. “Making children, teachers and education a priority in Nashua is key if we want our city to grow and succeed.”

About the American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire Local 1044

AFT-NH Local 1044 is the Municipal Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire. AFT Local 1044 has nearly 1,500 members in Nashua, including teachers, para-educators, secretaries and food service employees.

Make My Labor Day: Sweepstakes For Union Members

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Union members built this country, and our dedication keeps it running. To celebrate the folks that make America possible, Union Plus is bringing Labor Day back to its roots. It’s time to show our appreciation, and cook up a little fun in the process.

Union members should head to UnionPlus.org/Contest to vote for their favorite labor hero. In honor of our heritage, and to make Labor Day even more awesome, three union members who vote and enter will be rewarded with $500. Don’t wait too long to enter, because this sweepstakes ends Saturday, September 12, 2015.

Head to UnionPlus.org/Contest, and vote for one of these labor heroes!

  • Cesar Chavez: Inspirational labor leader and co-founder of the United Farm Workers.
  • Eugene V. Debs: Tireless labor leader who founded the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
  • Samuel Gompers: First and longest-serving American Federation of Labor (AFL) president.
  • Mary “Mother” Jones: Fearless organizer of Mine Workers once labeled “the most dangerous woman in America.”
  • Lucy Parsons: Fought for workers’ rights during the oppressive industrial system of 19th century Chicago.
  • Frances Perkins: The first woman cabinet member who served as Secretary of Labor for 12 years.
  • Philip Randolph: Organized the first predominantly black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
  • Walter Reuther: Won unmatched benefits for workers as United Auto Workers president from 1946 to 1970.

Thanks for playing, and let’s make the best Monday ever even better.

Senators Ayotte, Shaheen Praise Paul O’Connor And Workers At Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

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Senator Ayotte and Paul O’Connor at Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing. Image from Senator Ayotte

In a Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing she chaired today, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) continued her longstanding advocacy for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) and highlighted the shipyard’s best practices as a model for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.

As Chair, Ayotte invited Paul O’Connor, President of the Metal Trades Council at PNSY to testify about shipyard best practices at PNSY, how they affect performance, and how they can be effectively shared with other shipyards. The hearing was particularly focused on new training techniques, efficiency initiatives, management and labor cooperation, apprentice programs, and the role of shipyards in sustaining naval readiness.

“Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is the Navy’s center of excellence for fast attack nuclear-powered submarine maintenance, modernization, and repair. That is more than just words. The skilled and dedicated workers at Portsmouth have proven it with their performance and their consistent track record of completing projects ahead of schedule and under budget,” Ayotte said.

Mr. O’Connor’s career spans 40 years as a federal employee at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where he worked 25 years in the trades as a journeyman electrician performing maintenance and modernization work on submarines. For the past 12 years, he has served as President of the Metal Trades Council, representing the 2,500 tradesmen and women at the shipyard.

“What we’re doing at Portsmouth [Naval Shipyard] is truly listening to our workforce. We want their ideas – the men and women at the job site… At our Shipyard, there are about 6,000 men and women….The most important thing we’ve done at our shipyard, since we’ve begun these initiatives in 2010, is listen to our workforce… None of what you will hear today would have happened had we not listened to the workforce – it’s that important to us,” O’Connor said. “And, I’ve already said it, we can accomplish so much more when we work together. Again, it sounds so simple, but it’s so easy to find reasons or excuses to not work together or to not listen to someone. And we’re trying to work past that at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.”

As Chair of the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee which oversees shipyards, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), and military construction, Senator Ayotte has been a steadfast advocate for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and its dedicated workforce. In addition to playing a major role in authorizing funding for necessary infrastructure projects at the shipyard, Senator Ayotte has used her position on the Armed Services Committee to push for the acquisition of two Virginia Class Submarines each year, instead of only one. Her successful efforts will help mitigate a looming shortfall in attack submarines that threatens our national security and will ensure the workers at Portsmouth are fully utilized for years to come-making the shipyard less susceptible to a future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, which she has consistently opposed and successfully blocked for 2017 in the Senate-passed defense bill.

In order to highlight PNSY’s top performance and secure the shipyard’s future, Ayotte has also led successful efforts in recent years to bring senior DoD officials to the shipyard – including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, in July 2013; now-Admiral and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Michelle Howard in April 2014; and the Commander of Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, in April 2015.

Click here to see Senator Ayotte’s opening remarks.

Below is the video of  Paul O’Connor’s opening remarks.

During the hearing, Senator Jeanne Shaheen praised the work of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees for their contribution to national security, their success in making energy efficiency improvements and for recently receiving the Secretary of the Navy’s excellence in environmental stewardship award.  She questioned Paul O’Connor, President of the Metal Trades Council at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, about the impact automatic federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, has on shipyard employee hiring, retention and morale. You can watch their exchange here.

Later in her questioning, Senator Shaheen asked the witnesses to also comment on the difficulties they run into in trying to hire qualified graduates educated in science, technology, engineering and math, and the impact sequestration has in attracting those graduates.  Mr. O’Connor talked of the difficulties of hiring these kinds of employees when funds for employee outreach and hiring gets zeroed-out to accommodate budget cuts.

Truck Drivers In Georgia Are Fight Back Against Wage Theft And Misclassification

Throughout the country hard working men and women are being screw out their hard earned money by companies who are “mis-classifying” their employees.

In a nutshell, a company hires a worker, say a truck driver, to do deliveries for the company.  The company hires the driver as an independent contractor, no matter how much or for how long he may work with the company.  The company pays a flat rate to the “independent contractor” and the driver is then responsible for literally everything else.

The driver must provide the truck including all regular and unscheduled maintenance, the vehicle insurance, and the company mandated cell phone.  What the company does not pay for is workman’s compensation insurance, healthcare, vacation or paid sick leave, or any type of retirement.  In some cases this means that these professional truck drivers are making below minimum wage for the hours they work.

These workers are getting shafted by these unscrupulous employers who are stealing from their own employers to line their pockets.  This is wrong and it has to stop!

The good news is that in Georgia, workers are coming together to fight back.

Watch this great video from the Port Drivers Union about their first hearing on Misclassification of workings in Savannah.  (Be sure to follow them on Facebook for more updates.)

 

Stand Up for Workers at Voters First Forum

Pro-Worker Visibility at NH Voters First Forum

This coming Monday, August 3rd, the New Hampshire Union Leader will be hosting the first Republican Primary (debate) Forum.  All the major players in the GOP Primary are scheduled to attend including Governor Scott Walker, Governor John Kasich, Governor Chris Christie, Senator Rand Paul, Governor Jeb Bush, and the list goes on.  Reportedly there could be as many as 16 candidates on the stage for this forum on Aug. 3rd, just days before the big official Fox News debate.

We want to show that in New Hampshire, workers matter! Many of these politicians are trying to make their career by attacking working families.  Slashing our rights, stealing our pensions, and gutting the programs we have paid into all of our lives.

Come join us for a pro-worker visibility and tell the world that attacking working families is not the road to the White House.

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New Hampshire AFL-CIO members and community allies will join the gathering of pro-labor & progressive voices outside the New Hampshire Union Leader Voters First Forum at St. Anselm College on Monday, August 3. The forum will feature comments by 14 GOP presidential primary candidates, including anti-worker Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Monday, August 3, 2015 | 5:30pm

St. Anselm College, Manchester NH

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Progressive Policy and Politics Drive AFL-CIO Executive Meeting

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council meeting taking place this week on July 29th and 30th in Silver Spring, MD:

The Executive Council of the AFL-CIO is meeting this week to strategize and coalesce around an agenda that helps working people achieve a better life. Building on our Raising Wages roadmap, the AFL-CIO is more committed than ever to broad progressive policies that bring our economy back into balance, encourage working men and women to speak up together, and enable families to sustain themselves.

In 2015, nearly 5 million working men and women will sit down with their employers to demand a fair contract, making this the biggest year for collective bargaining in American history. It is already paying dividends. In the first six months of this year alone, working people across a variety of industries have earned an average 4.3 percent pay increase the old-fashioned way—by asking for it.

As union members win wage increases through bargaining, we are spearheading political victories too. Just last week, fast food workers won a $15 minimum wage in New York and for the first time in history federal legislation was proposed at the same level. These are not isolated actions—they are part of a growing grassroots movement to change the rules to benefit working people, not the wealthy few.

The Raising Wages agenda is about more than income. We also need fundamental reforms like paid time off to care for a loved one, reliable and flexible schedules, equal pay for equal work, and the right to form a union free from employer interference. We must also put stricter rules on Wall Street and stop passing corporate-written, job-killing trade deals. Wall Street should serve Main Street, not the other way around.

The specifics of this agenda will drive our in-person discussions with five presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb. We want to know what their plan is to raise wages, what economic advisors they will listen to, and what actions they will take to make our economy fairer for working families. Our Raising Wages agenda, not any candidate’s political party, is the measuring stick we will use in 2016.

The need for fairer economic policies will be amplified by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute. He will address the Executive Council to discuss his report “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy.” Stiglitz makes clear that wage and income inequality—which has skyrocketed to record highs—is not a natural occurrence, but the result of conscious decisions by policymakers of both political parties.

Chief among his recommendations for creating a stronger America is guaranteeing the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively, as well as increasing union density. We have been arguing for decades that the best tool to fight inequality is a collective bargaining agreement. He also calls for raising wages; reining in Wall Street excess; investing in health care, education and infrastructure; reforming our broken immigration system; and increasing opportunities for women and people of color.

The 12.5 million men and women we represent work hard every day and deserve an economy that works for them. Working people are not asking for much: good pay, decent benefits, paid time off, a fair schedule, and a something left over to retire with dignity. It is their future that will drive this Executive Council meeting, our role in the 2016 election, and our work going forward.

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