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Meet SHRM – The HR Association Lobbying and Suing To Roll Back Workers Rights

This article was republished with permission from Political Research Associates. The original article can be found here. 


“If it happens that you don’t agree with one of SHRM’s positions, we ask that if you disagree you please refrain from that discussion.” –Kathleen Coulombe, SHRM Senior Associate for Government Relations, speaking to dues-paying SHRM members at its recent legal and legislative conference on how to lobby members of Congress

 


By Mariya Strauss for Political Research Associates

Human Resources doesn’t usually conjure up images of adversarial political activism. Yet contrary to its politically neutral image, the innocuously-named Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM, pronounced “sherm”) campaigns for public policies and mounts legal efforts to block workers’ rights. The group, which claims to have grown from 130,000 members in 2000 to now having 275,000 members globally, purports to represent individual human resources professionals across all industries. And indeed, it produces HR resources such as tip sheets and reports on how to comply with the law, workshops and trainings to earn professional certification, a trade magazine, and statistical analyses about the HR industry and the job market.

But lobbying to change the regulatory climate for business is one of its major unspoken goals.

Back in 2000, union-busting lawyer and then chair of SHRM Michael Lotito (from whom we will hear again later), said “If we had a market penetration—let’s say SHRM had 500,000 members, and 250,000 of them were in grassroots networks—we would be heard not because we shouted, but because we threatened to whisper.”  SHRM has quietly and steadily grown its lobbying operation to include a half-dozen staffers, a nationwide member lobbying network, a major legal and legislative conference, and even a satellite office in Sacramento, whose sole purpose appears to be lobbying at the California statehouse.

Though its stated mission is to “serve the needs of HR professionals and advance the professional practice of human resource management,” SHRM’s legislative agenda is instead aligned with that of big corporations such as McDonalds, and major GOP donors such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch Brothers’ Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Openly working in concert with dark-money business lobbying groups such as the International Franchise Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business, SHRM has been speaking out in the press, filing lawsuits, and pushing state and national bills. These efforts are aimed at blocking the rights of workers to do everything from forming unions, to having guaranteed paid sick days, to getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

UNDERCOVER AT SHRM’S LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE

So how does SHRM speak to its own members about the need to block workers’ rights? I went undercover for Political Research Associates to SHRM’s annual gathering, the Legal and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. March 22-24 to find out. More than 650 people attended the conference from all 50 states and D.C., each having paid between $1200 and $1500 for the ticket.

“We’re not going to see successful efforts to mandate paid leave at the federal level,” Mike Aitken, SHRM’s Vice President for Government Affairs, told the assembled members at the conference.  Aitken briefly outlined a sophisticated, multi-state strategy for fighting paid leave and higher wages, and not only defunding the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – but suing in court to block its decisions. Aitken also alluded to SHRM’s use of member focus groups and questionnaires to form its policy positions. Though we were unable to locate any focus group or questionnaire results regarding policy positions, SHRM did this past week publish the results of a survey of its state legislative directors with questions about how engaged they are with SHRM. However, no actual SHRM members we spoke with said they have ever been contacted for their input on actual policy—and Aitken acknowledged that  “our Board is what shapes our policy positions.”1

Mike Aitken, SHRM VP for Government Affairs.

Other presenters at the conference included employer-side labor lawyers and HR consultants, each delivering a message of “we’re not an anti-union organization, but…” with confidence and uniform consistency. Unlike organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Franchise Association(IFA) who co-sign and help to push SHRM’s anti-workers’ rights positions (who explicitly exist only to represent business interests), SHRM brings a grassroots base of HR professionals—people who are used to being peacemakers and finding compromises. In their regular professional practice, they are charged with complying with the law, rather than changing it to restrict the rights of employees. But SHRM tells members that it is also their job to pressure members of Congress and federal agencies to change the regulatory regime in favor of the largest employers.

THE CHICKEN LITTLE APPROACH TO “GRASSROOTS” ANTI-WORKER LOBBYING

How is SHRM selling its members the case for blocking employees’ rights, such as the right to earn paid sick leave and the right to choose a union? By telling them the sky is falling.

Lotito is now a shareholder in the employer-side labor law firm Littler Mendelson.  He gave a session at the conference entitled “The NLRB: New Relevance and New Challenges.”  During the session, his voice rising from a conspiratorial whisper to a roar of outrage, sermonizing on how a recent decision from the NLRB’s general counsel to treat McDonald’s franchisees as jointly liable with the headquarters could damage other businesses. He suggested that the joint-liability decision threatens the business-to-business relationships many companies have with their cleaning services, gardeners, and so forth, suggesting that any company could be viewed as somehow liable for the treatment of its subcontractors’ employees.

But the NLRB general counsel’s decision on joint liability narrowly applies only to cases brought by McDonald’s employees against the hamburger chain. As Steven Greenhouse recently reported in TheNew York Times, “’The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,’ said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer who filed complaints on behalf of several McDonald’s employees in New York. ‘The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.’”

Lotito, who co-chairs his law firm’s “Workplace Policy” subdivision, also criticized the NLRB’s recent decision to significantly shorten the 25-day window of time between when a union files for an election and when the election takes place. The new rule, which SHRM (echoing a US Chamber of Commerce talking point) dubs the “Ambush elections rule” in its printed policy statements and Powerpoint slides throughout the conference, goes into effect April 14.

Lotito’s old firm, Jackson Lewis, has made a lot of money advising employers on how to run an anti-union campaign during the existing 25 day window. As journalist David Bacon wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2008:

“Campaign tactics include: In the weeks before these tainted elections, 51 percent of employers threaten to close if the union wins; and 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with supervisors. This conduct is effectively unpunishable, making a mockery of free elections. Signing cards is a safer, calmer process that workers control themselves, and workers keep the option of using either the cards or the election – their choice, not their employer’s.”

SHRM is one of a handful of business lobby groups that is suing in federal court to block the rule’s implementation.2

Lotito explained that his firm also provided members of Congress with questions to use in a House Appropriations committee hearing the following day, March 24, on the NLRB’s budget. (You can watch that hearing here. Though we don’t know specifically which questions were provided by Littler, SHRM VP Mike Aitken told those at the conference that SHRM may attempt to fight the NLRB by adding a “rider to defund them through the appropriations process.” )

Having framed SHRM’s participation in the assault on workers’ rights as a matter of defending employers from onerous government regulations, Lotito was ready to unveil the Goliath that he says HR professionals should fear: unions. (He conveniently omitted the fact that unions now only represent just over 6% of the private sector workforce.) Again referring to the McDonald’s joint employer finding, Lotito explicitly named the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as the enemy:

“What I think is going to happen, what I would do if I were the SEIU, is on April 14th I would file 100 petitions in 20 different states against a whole bunch of franchisees alleging that there is a joint employment relationship between those franchisees and McDonald’s. I will win at least 50 percent of those elections and then I will demand… all kinds of information from McDonald’s Corp with respect to the underlying economics because they are the ones who are really controlling the purse strings with respect to the franchisee, so in order to have meaningful collective bargaining in theory I gotta have the franchisor with me, and I would use that as additional attack points. Or if I was really really really really tricky, on April 11th or 12th I’d go to McDonalds and say that on April 14th I’m going to file for elections, and as a result of that I’m going to bring your organization to a standstill. I’ve got an out for you though. I can be your best friend. I can tell everybody how great you are. All you have to do is agree to neutrality and card check…This is all about increasing union market share.”

Despite its studiously politically neutral and “we’re not anti-union” claims, SHRM has entered the public policy ring unmistakably on the side of big business and against workers’ rights. Whether its members accept its characterization of who the enemy is—and how many of them will unquestioningly sally forth to help block workers’ rights in the ongoing state and federal policy battles—remains to be seen.


Mariya Strauss is PRA’s economic justice researcher and a former guest editor for The Public Eye magazine. A Maryland-based freelance writer, her investigative journalism and commentary have been published in The Nation, at the GlobalComment blog, and The Public Eye magazine, among others. You can follow her on Twitter at @mariyastrauss. 


END NOTES

[1] SHRM’s website explains its process for determining policy positions thusly: “SHRM’s Government Affairs team partners with our Research Department to develop survey questions to take the pulse of the membership on what it feels about the issue.  Our Research Department may utilize the full SHRM Survey Report or a shorter Question of the Week format to obtain input from our members. In addition, Government Affairs staff gathers information by convening a series of public policy focus groups at the various SHRM national conferences, regional conferences and chapter meetings.

Once this input is gathered, staff develops a proposed public policy statement that is then subject to review by several SHRM Special Expertise panels who have jurisdiction over the subject area for their comment and review. The proposed public policy statement is then presented to the Board of Directors for its review and approval.”http://www.shrm.org/advocacy/publicpolicystatusreports/federal/pages/default.aspx#sthash.rXJAGapV.dpuf

[2] As economist Ross Eisenbrey noted in the Economic Policy Institute’s blog earlier this month, “The NLRB’s rule does away with an automatic 25-day delay between when employees file an election petition and the election occurs. The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate any such delay, but the anti-union lawyers treated it as a God-given right and claimed its elimination was ‘blowing up the election process’ and a denial of employer free speech rights. You’d think they were kidding, but they at least pretended to be serious.” In actual practice, the old rule has given employers enough time to harass, intimidate, and illegally fire workers involved in a unionization campaign, effectively lowering the number of union elections in US workplaces to 1453 in FY 2014– approximately two one-hundredths of a percent of all US workplaces.

USW President Leo W. Gerard: The GOP’s Big Squeeze

Editor’s note: Beginning this week, the NH Labor News will also be posting a weekly editorial from United Steelworkers President Leo W Gerard. 

(Image by Gage Skidmore CC FLIKR)

(Image by Gage Skidmore CC FLIKR)

Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation last week to lower the wages of Wisconsin’s middle class workers. He wants pay cuts for hard working Wisconsinites.

It’s part of a pattern established by Wisconsin’s Republican governor and the Republicans who control the state legislature. Earlier, they slashed the paychecks ofteachers and government workers by 8 to 10 percent. Wisconsin Republicans refused to raise the minimum wage for workers who haven’t seen an increase in six years, even as 29 states gave raises to the lowest paid. Meanwhile, Walker and his GOP gang butchered state funding for public schools and propose the same fate for the state’s public universities – the colleges that, until now, the middle class could afford.

For putting the squeeze on workers, Walker is the darling of the GOP. In some polls,the college dropout is their leading candidate for the presidential nomination. His Mitt Romney-like hatred of the 47 percent, the working poor and organized labor is so GOP-revered that freshmen Republican governors like Bruce Rauner of Illinois are aping his efforts to shove workers down.

 

2015-03-15-1426441394-4673975-GOPSqueezegraphic.jpg

Photo by Rob Chandanals on Flickr.

 

The legislation Walker signed last week is called right-to-work-for-less. That’s because workers in states with these laws are paid $1,500 a year less. Wherever Republicans control a house of a state legislature, they propose it.

After Republicans won majorities in both houses in West Virginia for the first time in eight decades, the GOP immediately introduced right-to-work-for-less legislation. GOP Gov. Rauner, a billionaire, tried to circumvent Illinois’ Democrat-controlled legislature by imposing right-to-work-for-less on government workers by executive fiat.

Every adult American, of course, has the right to work. What this legislation does is help corporations and state governments cut workers’ pay. Its intent is regressive. Republicans want to return America to the days when robber barons controlled workers’ lives completely. This was a time of grotesque income inequality, of child labor, of tragically unsafe workplaces, of bosses compelling workers to remain on the job 50, 60 even 80 hours a week with no overtime pay.

American workers already are suffering the worst income inequality since the Great Depression. Right-to-work-for-less laws worsen that. These statutes forbid employers and labor organizations from negotiating collective bargaining agreements requiring all workers to pay either fair share fees or union dues.

At workplaces where employees have chosen union representation, federal law requires the labor organization to act on behalf of all of the workers, whether or not they join and pay dues. Fair share fees, which are less than dues, cover costs such as bargaining contracts that benefit all workers and representing workers who haven’t joined the union but want it to file grievances for them against the company.

Right-to-work-for-less laws are intended to bankrupt unions. And they do.

In Wisconsin four years ago, before passage of right-to-work-for-less legislation for government workers, Council 40 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing county and municipal workers, received dues or fair share payments from 32,000 workers. Now, Council 40 gets dues from 13,000. That cut nearly in half the funds it has to represent all 32,000 workers. As reduced income diminishes the AFSCME Council’s ability to do that well, more workers may quit and stop paying dues. That’s the death spiral Republicans are seeking.

Wisconsin unions representing workers at private companies face that same fate as a result of the new right-to-work-for-less legislation that Gov. Walker signed last week.

Right-to-work-for-less laws take from workers the tool they used for decades to secure better wages and working conditions. Right-to-work-for-less sends workers back to the desperate days before 1935. That’s the year Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act encouraging collective bargaining.

For nearly four decades after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the act, union membership grew, America’s middle class blossomed and income inequality shriveled. For the past three decades, as Republicans attacked workers’ right to collectively bargain for better lives, union membership shrank and workers’ wages stagnated. Now, income inequality is back to robber baron levels.

While the GOP attacked unions, Republicans like Walker and Rauner wounded the working poor and middle class in other ways as well. They cut funding for public transit, day care and unemployment insurance. They slashed spending for public education from Florida to Oklahoma to Arizona.

Now, GOP governors are demanding hundreds of millions in cuts to the public universities attended by the children of America’s middle class. Rauner wants to take $400 million from the University of Illinois. Walker wants to slash $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey wants to carve $75 million out of his state’s universities.

The result is that while workers get paid less, they’re shelling out more to buy bus tickets to their jobs, to ensure that while they work their toddlers are safe and to give their kids a college education.

This is the GOP’s big squeeze. It means the death of opportunity for the working poor to climb into the middle class. It means more of the middle class dragged down into poverty as workers scramble to pay ever-climbing bills with ever-smaller paychecks.

Unions and progressive groups are fighting back. Unions, including the United Steelworkers, have filed lawsuits in Wisconsin and Illinois to try to reverse right-to-work-for-less in those states. And a coalition of progressive groups and social welfare organizations staged protests last week across the country under the banner: “We Rise.”  They’re demanding politicians put people and the planet first – that is, before the greed interests and ecological disinterest of Republicans and big corporations.

They refuse to be strangled by the GOP.

Public Employees: Speak Up Knowing You Are Protected!

Written by
Terri D. Donovan, Esq.,
Director of Collective Bargaining and Field Services
American Federation of Teachers-NH

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

All of a sudden there are many meetings in our cities, towns and school districts consumed with budget hearings and deliberative sessions where funding decisions will be made about our schools and vital public services. You read the headlines. The loud voices to slash budgets seem to be heard above all. Will you sit on the sidelines or speak up about important public services and your schools?

You go to work every day and teach your students, plow the roads, answer a burglary call or respond to a house fire. You wonder do these naysayers really know what is happening every day in your workplace. Do your fellow community members realize the pride you take in your work? Or are you just a line item in a budget?

This time of year there are many questions from our members and other public employees if they are allowed to speak at a public meeting. If they speak, can they be disciplined? Fired? The answer is NO. As a public employee in NH you have a right to free speech. Just because your paycheck is from a city, town or school district does not diminish your right to be heard.

If you are covered by a union contract you have protections. In fact, AFT-NH Local #6214, Pittsfield Town Employees, filed an Unfair Labor Charge at the NH Public Employees Labor Relations Board in 2012 which addressed a gag order which had been imposed by the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen. The gag order was passed when union members spoke out against an egregious budget cut and actions taken to implement this cut. The Selectmen retracted this order shortly thereafter but the Union pursued the claim to stand up for public employees’ free speech rights. The NH PELRB was clear in supporting public employees in their rights to speak public about their collective bargaining agreements and their working conditions.

The NH PELRB ordered the following, “The Town shall cease and desist from any activity, including the development and enforcement of any policy, that would prohibit bargaining unit employees’ communications with the public or media on the issues related to collective bargaining or the terms and conditions of their employment.”

Also as a public employee in New Hampshire you have unique statutory protection under Chapter 98-E, Public Employee Freedom of Expression. If your employer is a county, city, town, school district, SAU, precinct or water district you are protected.

 98-E:1 Freedom of Expression. – Notwithstanding any other rule or order to the contrary, a person employed as a public employee in any capacity shall have a full right to publicly discuss and give opinions as an individual on all matters concerning any government entity and its policies. It is the intention of this chapter to balance the rights of expression of the employee with the need of the employer to protect legitimate confidential records, communications, and proceedings. 

Please check for important meetings in your city and town. Deliberative sessions and budget hearings are happening now! You may not be comfortable speaking but jot down a few notes so you feel more comfortable. Speaking from the heart and with sincere concerns will resonate with fellow community members. Your opinion does matter to them. Be sure to avoid disclosing any confidential information you may know as a result of your work. You should rely on your Union to advise when it is appropriate in the collective bargaining process to speak out publicly. Once a contract is presented to the voters for approval, it is very important for you to reach out for support in the community.

You can speak to what you would believe to be the impact of budget cuts and speak proudly of the work done in your district or municipality. When you speak out you offer encouragement and support for others in the community to also have their voices heard.

Please don’t be silenced!

 

 

 

AFT President Randi Weingarten on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

“Unions give workers the voice they need, and public education gives our children the opportunity they deserve.” 

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s statement on President Obama’s State of the Union address:

“Tonight, the president invoked our shared values, reminding us what unites us as a nation. He asked us to turn the page, to ensure shared prosperity, to pave the road to middle-class economics so that all who want a chance to succeed get that chance. He affirmed that every child in every neighborhood matters. And he reinforced that unions give workers the voice they need, and public education gives our children the opportunity they deserve.

“All workers deserve a pathway to a good job with a living wage—one that covers the cost of healthcare and child care, and allows them to pay down exorbitant student loans, save for their retirement, provide the basic necessities for their family, like food and housing, and still have a little left over. Working families see that the economy is getting better, but too many have yet to feel it. That must change, and the president raised many ideas tonight to change it. We need to ensure that all families can climb the ladder of opportunity. And to do that, we need our government to reinvest in public education and support our educators. The tools the president advanced tonight—providing free community college and greater access to early childhood education, raising the minimum wage, offering child care and paid sick leave to parents—all will help if they are enacted.

“The president summoned us all to come together, to think bigger, to aim higher. That’s what the teachers, nurses and public workers, those who are and want to be the middle class in America, do every day. This is our credo. We want to do what’s best for our communities and our country. We want to reclaim the promise of America.”

AFL-CIO Releases Youth Economic Platform, Leading Up to State of the Union Address

Platform to serve as foundation for upcoming nationwide actions

Today, the AFL-CIO Young Worker Advisory Council released its economic platform as part of an effort to build a nationwide youth economic movement for raising wages. The platform, which is being announced on the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address, is an agenda for action for the labor federation’s nearly 50 Young Worker Groups across the country—including in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Despite the economy slowly rebounding, young people continue to lag behind. The President’s community college proposal is a wonderful idea but it has to be part of a bigger plan to revive the American Dream,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. “This document and its principles should serve as the outline of what the President embraces in the State of the Union when he talks about young people next week.”

The platform includes a number of proposals that would help young people overcome many significant economic challenges. Among them: free high-quality public higher education, increased public investment to create jobs, stronger union rights, a heavier emphasis on combatting discrimination in the workforce, and policies that raise wages for all not just the wealthy.

“Unless there’s an election coming up, politicians far too often relegate the interests of young people to the backburner. To make sure that changes, young workers have told us they will fight for this agenda in the coming months,” said AFL-CIO Young Worker Coordinator Tahir Duckett.

The report can be viewed here: http://go.aflcio.org/nextup-future-economy

AFL-CIO: “Free Trade” Agreement Led to Immigration Crisis

Honduran Workers (Image from AFLCIO)

Honduran Workers (Image from AFLCIO)

Report finds strong correlation between CAFTA, failed migration policies and increased militarization and recent displacement of women and children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America

 A new, eye-opening report issued by the AFL-CIO sheds light on how failed trade policies contributed to the unaccompanied minor crisis at the U.S. border during last summer. The report contains the findings of a delegation of U.S. labor and community leaders who, in October of 2014, traveled to Honduras.

The report titled “Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers” seeks to answer the “root causes” of the unaccompanied minor crisis, while offering various recommendations to the U.S. and Honduran governments. The authors identified egregious worker rights violations, widespread violence, lack of decent work opportunities, crushing poverty, and failure on the part of the government to protect the lives and rights of citizens in their home country as the main catalysts behind a migrant’s decision to come to the U.S.

For four days, members of the delegation met with local labor leaders, returned migrants and community leaders, who spoke on how the Central American Free Trade Agreement – Dominican Republic (CAFTA –DR) – has contributed to lowering their standards of living.  At the end of their visit, delegates came to the conclusion that the people of Central America will continue to flee their homes until they can live their lives with a sense of stability, all of which will require concerted policy changes in the United States and Honduras.

“What we witnessed was the intersection of our corporate-dominated trade policies with our broken immigration system contributing to a state that fails workers and their families and forces them to live in fear,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, who was part of the delegation. “The results are dangerous and serve as a warning of what we cannot allow to continue.”

The report features a series of recommendations for the U.S. and Honduran government on topics related to migration policy; the protection of human and labor rights; and, security and labor policy. Most importantly, the report recommends the following actions:

  1. The U.S. should insist that the Honduran government prosecute all cases of violence against human and worker rights activists including efforts to deny freedom of association as part of the ongoing enforcement of CAFTA labor obligations.
  2. The U.S. must provide immediate funding for the rehabilitation and nurturing support of refugees in the United States. In particular, resources and technical assistant should be dedicated for programs supporting girls and women victims of physical or sexual violence.
  3. Honduras should create a national campaign on minimum wage and overtime pay that promotes compliance with the laws and provides a mechanism such as a hot line for workers to report violations of these and other labor laws.

As of August 31, 2014, U.S. Border Patrol had encountered 17,975 unaccompanied Honduran minors – the largest of any Central American country.

To view the complete report, click here: http://go.aflcio.org/HondurasReport

Rep Annie Kuster Lays Out Her Agenda For Working Americans (VIDEO)

Annie KusterRecently she spoke at the NH AFL-CIO Labor Day breakfast where Congresswoman Annie Kuster laid out her agenda for rebuilding the middle class and helping all working families.

You can see her full 5 minute speech just below, but I will give you a couple of highlights.

  • Raising the federal minimum wage.
  • Protecting workers rights, including attacks against the National Labor Relations Board.
  • Protecting collective bargaining rights.
  • Fought against federal Right to Work for less legislation.
  • Ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans.
  • Increasing funding for schools, and community & technical colleges.
  • Increasing manufacturing right here at home.

We need more people like Annie in Washington who are working to get things done, not just create more gridlock.

LABOR DAY 2014– An American Holiday We Should Celebrate by Raising the Minimum Wage (Not Wall Street Profits)

laborday

Labor Day isn’t just “the end of summer.”  What many Americans forget: Labor Day honors the sacrifices and accomplishments of our Labor Movement.

Yep, that’s right. Here in America, we have a national holiday honoring the Labor Movement.  Just like Presidents Day, Veterans Day and Christmas Day.  (But I betcha Fox News won’t be covering “the war on Labor Day.”)

Facts: Without labor unions, we would not have child labor laws.  Or a 40-hour work week, lunch and rest breaks, time-and-a-half pay for overtime.  We wouldn’t have worksite safety laws, or the government agencies that enforce them.  Employers wouldn’t provide paid vacation time, paid sick time, maternity leave, healthcare, or retirement benefits.

These gains aren’t just for union members.  Over the past 150 years, labor unions have pushed for better working conditions and better pay for all workers.

It is important to take time to look at all we have accomplished. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that we still have so much work to do.

The minimum wage in 2014 dollars.  Image from "The rise and fall of the minimum wage" (DailyKos Labor)

The minimum wage in 2014 dollars.
Image from “The rise and fall of the minimum wage” (DailyKos Labor)

All across our great nation, people are working 12-14 hours a day and yet they are still living in poverty.   For the past 40 years, workers’ wages have barely kept up with inflation, while corporate profits are reaching an all time high.  Corporate executives are now bringing home obscene amounts of money, while their workers are forced to live off of food stamps and welfare checks.

Where is all that money going?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the highest it has ever been which means that Corporate America is doing just fine.  Corporations are bringing in record profits, yet workers are being laid off, and forced to take concessions in their take home pay.   Then why hasn’t that “trickled down” to all of the rest of us?  It is because all of that money is going directly to Wall Street.

Economist William Lazonick looked at the S&P 500 and found that 449 of those companies used 54% of their corporate profits – a total of $2.4 trillion dollars – to buy back their own stock and another 37% to pay dividends to their shareholders.  That means 91% of the company’s profits are going right back to the wealthy Wall Street investors and the CEOs who are predominantly paid in stock options.  By buying back the company’s stock they raise the value of their own stock, which translates into wealth for only a select few.

Despite the fact that many Americans do not know or understand how these corporations are funneling all of their money into Wall Street, Americans have begun to speak out against corporate greed in calling for a higher wages.

Hundreds of low wage fast food workers held impromptu strikes calling for living wage.  They are fighting for $15 dollars an hour, paid sick time, and the right to form a union.

The same thing is happening at Walmart and other retail giants, which have been raking in gobs of money in profits, at the same time they’re encouraging employees to donate food to help feed other associates.

It is sickening, and something has to change.

“President Bush signed the last minimum wage increase on May 25, 2007”

“President Bush signed the last minimum wage increase on May 25, 2007”

This constant pressure by workers is slowly starting to make its way into our state capitols and into Congress.  This year, Vermont legislators pushed a bill that would raise their state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour over the next four years, making VT the highest minimum wage in the country.  Ten other states and Washington D.C. have passed a minimum wage increase.

NPR recently reported that “new data released by the Department of Labor shows that raising the minimum wage in some states does not appear to have had a negative impact on job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen.”

At the local level, SEA-TAC a subset of Seattle pushed their minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, even though Washington’s minimum wage is already $9.32 per hour.   Washington continues to lead the nation in job creation at a rate of .8%, a full .3% above the national average.  Bloomberg News reports that restaurants and bars, the “most vulnerable” to higher wage costs, “expanded by 21%”.

Guess that’s what happens when corporations are forced to pay their employees higher wages, instead of paying their stockholders higher dividends.  The entire state economy grows because people have a little more to spend.

Washington is shining example of what could happen throughout America if Congress would start by lifting the minimum wage.

minwageArt.jgp_But a higher minimum wage is just one of the policies that working families need.  We also need stronger labor laws with updated penalties, and more aggressive enforcement of those laws.  Employers should not be able to steal from workers or maintain unsafe working conditions – figuring they won’t get caught, and even if they do get prosecuted, it’s cheaper to pay the fine than follow the law.

We need an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy 1%.

Our history has shown that when we Americans speak together as one, we can make changes that help everyone.  We have done it before and we will do it again.

This Labor Day, please stop and take a minute to join the millions of Americans who are calling on our elected leaders to remember who elected them (rather than who paid for their campaigns).

Wall Street’s economic recovery started back in 2009.  We need some of that “recovery” to make its way to Main Street.

(Click here to send a message to your elected leader asking them to raise the minimum wage)

AFL-CIO Presents Resolution at Ralph Lauren Shareholders’ Meeting

Unions, joined by religious organizations, demand Ralph Lauren
Respect the human rights of Bangladeshi Garment Workers

August 7th, 2014 (New York, NY) –This morning, unions and religious organizations rallied outside Ralph Lauren Shareholders’ meeting while inside, the AFL-CIO sponsored a shareholder resolution calling on Ralph Lauren to conduct a human rights risk assessment. The AFL-CIO resolution was seconded by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The AFL-CIO sponsored shareholder resolution was presented by Nazma Akter, President, Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation. Akter, who worked at the Tazreen Fashions factory that had a tragic fire in 2012, pushed for Ralph Lauren to explain why it has refused to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would help protect the safety of garment workers who produce Ralph Lauren apparel.

Akter called on Ralph Lauren to conduct a human rights risk assessment.

“It is all the more important because Ralph Lauren—an iconic brand in the world of fashion—sources garments produced by women like me in Bangladesh. Human rights risks for companies doing business in Bangladesh have become a central concern after the tragedy at the Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013. On that fateful day, 1,138 garment workers were killed and 2,515 more were injured.”

Akter continued, “Companies and trade unions came together to create the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. More than 180 apparel companies have signed the Accord, a binding and enforceable agreement that represents a new model in supply chain accountability and risk management… But Ralph Lauren—a company that has always stood for the highest quality—has not joined the Accord… I urge you to improve Ralph Lauren’s reporting on human rights risks wherever the company sources goods, and to take steps to mitigate human rights abuses in Bangladesh by signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety.”

The Rev. David Schilling, Senior Program Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, spoke at the rally in support of the AFL-CIO resolution and the broader campaign for international human rights for all workers. Rev. Schilling noted that,

“The Accord on Fire and Building Safety is the best solution to help prevent future workplace disasters in Bangladesh and to foster a culture of compliance and respect for international human rights norms.  The Accord guarantees that global brands and retailers can source apparel manufactured in factories with adequate health and safety standards and where international labor rights are respected.”

Organize The South To Change A Nation

Organize The South NN14Organize The South

“The only way to win economic justice in America is to organize the South,” according to MaryBe McMillian, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

During this year’s Netroots Nation, one panel discussion focused on how labor and progressive organizations are building a movement to effect real social change in America.

Those of us in the labor movement often think of “organizing” as recruiting new members to join our union ranks. While organizing workers is a crucial part of “organizing the South”, the panel’s broader message is that we need to organize people to push for progressive values.

Reverend Dr. William Barber explained what these progressive values are in a recent speech at the AFT convention. He repeated them as he spoke at Netroots Nation:

  1. Rev Dr William Barber NN14Protecting workers and their rights to organize and form unions.
  2. Protecting women’s health and reproductive rights and the rights of the LBGT community.
  3. Protecting our Constitutional right to vote, making it easier for everyone to vote.
  4. Strengthening our public education system.
  5. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable healthcare.

For example, progressive organizations in North Carolina are coming together in weekly protest marches, in what they call “Moral Mondays.” McMillian explained “We have been successful in organizing multiple groups to participate in Moral Mondays because we are all under attack.”

“The South has always been ground zero for the civil rights movement,” Planned Parenthood Federation’s Carol McDonald told the Netroots Nation audience, before describing some of the most legislative “wins” that came from the Moral Mondays movement.

To effect real economic change throughout the United States, we have to stop the exploitation of workers in the South. “Organizing workers from Texas to North Carolina, we will change the South and in turn change the nation,” said McMillian.

UAW and VW

The UAW Fight For VW

In recent years, labor unions throughout the South have been working to organize workers like Will Branch, an employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga TN who was part of the panel discussion.

Inside the facility, UAW’s organizing efforts were welcomed by both workers and plant managers. In Germany, all of Volkswagen’s plants are unionized. They have “works councils” where labor leaders meet with mangers to discuss plans to make the plant more efficient, to make a better product, and how they can make sure that the needs of both sides are satisfied. This is exactly the type of labor-management relations that Volkswagen was trying to build in Chattanooga.

“With a local works council, workers would have a voice they can use to make Volkswagen stronger; in safety, job security and efficiency,” said Jonathan Walden, Volkswagen paint technician. “Global representation means Chattanooga workers may have a strong voice in seeking new products and bringing more jobs to Tennessee.”

Despite Volkswagen’s encouragement of the organizing efforts of the United Auto Workers, many of the local politicians were not so happy.

  • Misleading stories ran in the local media, hinting that if the workers voted for the union, their plant could be closed. (This of course was news to Volkswagen, who tried to reassure workers and their new community that they were here to stay.)
  • U.S. Senator Bob Corker made outrageous claims that VW would only expand their plant if workers rejected the union.
  • Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslan offered $300 million dollars of taxpayer money, in the form of an “incentive” to Volkswagen, provided that the plant was not unionized.

“It’s essentially saying, ‘If you unionize, it’s going to hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m going to make sure it does,’” said Volkswagen worker Lauren Feinauer. “I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

“Politicians subjected Volkswagen workers to a two-week barrage of anti-UAW propaganda, outright lies, distortions, and threats about the viability of their plant.  [T]heir allies… refused to reveal their funding sources and …openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce,” the UAW said in a written statement.

The union representation election process resulted in a National Labor Relations Board challenge, which was dropped the UAW and Volkswagen announced that they have created “UAW Local 42”, a new union local that will represent the workers at the newly created works council.

“What is best for the worker, is what is best for the company,” VW employee Will Branch told the Netroots Nation audience. “It is not the money that keeps America going, it is us, the workers.”

(That sentiment on full display in the Market Basket protests, here in New England.)

Raise Up NC (@MoralMonday Twitter)

Raise Up NC (@MoralMonday Twitter)

Workers Unite For A Living Wage

Throughout the country, workers have begun to take collective action to highlight the fact that they are being abused and underpaid.

For instance, “Raise Up for $15” is working to organize low wage workers, mostly in fast food restaurants, to push for a living wage.

Cherri Delesline has worked at McDonalds for nearly a decade to support her family. She told the crowd at Netroots Nation, “After ten years with McDonalds, I only make a little more than I did when I started.” Delesline went on to say, “Mangers at my store only make a little more than $8.00 an hour.”

Do the math. A minimum wage worker working full time only makes $15,500 a year. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,850. These workers are working full time – and are still living in poverty.

These fast food workers are calling for North Carolina – and the country – to “Rise Up” by paying workers a $15 per hour minimum. Raise Up has also been working to help these fast food workers in their efforts to form unions. However, these workers are not waiting for the NLRB to say they are officially represented by a union, they are going “old school.” They are speaking out collectively, holding wildcat strikes and walkouts, until store management listens to their demands.

Their fight for a living wage is only just beginning. These workers are taking a big risk by stepping out against their employer, but they also know it is the right thing to do.

UFCW Logo

Organizing For Human Rights

In North Carolina, it is not just fast food workers who are seeing the benefits of union representation. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been organizing at food processing plants throughout the state. They successfully organized the Smithfield Foods plant in 2008 after a decade-long campaign. Now they have turned their eyes to the Mountaire chicken processing plant, 20 miles down the road.

“Slaughterhouse work is particularly dangerous. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report states that poultry and slaughterhouse workers suffer on-the-job injuries and illnesses at a rate more than twice the national average,” wrote Aaron Lake Smith in an article for INDY Week.

The UFWC members from the Smithfield plant are using their free time to explain to the workers at the Mountaire plant just how much the union has changed their lives. But management at Mountaire is not taking this organizing drive sitting down. They are fighting back, using union busting firms and pushing the envelope of the legality of opposing workers’ right to organize. (Read the story of Isom, who is a present-day version of “Norma Rae”)

For more than a decade, the Farm Laborers Organizing Committee (FLCO-AFLCIO) has been locked in a heated battle with R.J. Reynolds over the slave-like treatment of workers who harvest their tobacco.

“While big tobacco corporations make billions, tobacco farm workers live in poverty, face racism, harassment, nicotine poisoning, lethal pesticides, miserable housing in labor camps and denial of basic human rights and labor protections,” the FLOC wrote on their website.

The FLOC has chalked up a few wins, with contract agreements with Campbell’s Soup, produce growers in Michigan and Ohio, and the 2004 contract agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association – but R.J. Reynolds still eludes them.

Some people say that, “once upon a time unions were needed to protect workers, but we have laws for that now.”

But listening to the workers in the fields, in the plants, and behind the counters, it is obvious that unions are needed now more than ever. These corporations are not just blatantly violating workers’ organizing rights, they are violating their rights as humans. The unions are helping show workers they do not have to stand for this type of treatment, and to notify the public and regulatory agencies when these corporations are violating the law.

The South will not change overnight, but after decades of struggle, unions in the South are slowly rising again.

Image Donkey Hotey on FLCKR

Image DonkeyHotey on FLCKR

Overcoming Obstacles

The Netroots Nation panel discussed some of the significantly high hurdles that will need to be overcome while “organizing the South.”

“There are lots of barriers to our organizing efforts here in the South, but cannot let that deter us,” said MaryBe McMillian (Sec-Tres of the NC AFL-CIO).

“The biggest barrier to the organizing efforts in The South are the right wing politicians,” said Will Branch (UAW Local 42). “These politicians would use their religious beliefs to push their agenda.”

Right-wing religious groups are another major obstacle. Groups like “Right To Life” are working against women’s health and reproductive rights, explained Carol McDonald.  Someone once told me, “if you’re gonna play ball in the South, you have to know the rules of the game” – and then he pointed to the Bible.

This is exactly why the Moral Mondays movement has gained such a strong foothold. Rev. Barber is showing people through passages in the Bible, and passages from our Constitution, that what these right-wing extremists are doing goes against our faith, and against our democracy.

Another of the major obstacles to overcome is race, with right-wing groups trying to pit one race against another, just like they try to pit the middle class family against the lower class family. “We are saying ‘NO’ to the race baiting by the right-wing politicians,” said MaryBe McMillian. “They are afraid of middle class white women standing with low income immigrant workers.”

McMillian talked about how they are using the diversity of the South to their organizing advantage. “African-American workers know the struggles of the new immigrant workers, and they are out educating others,” McMillian said.

“There is no need to fight each other, black, white, or brown, because we are all being mistreated by rich white men,” said Cherri Delesline, a McDonalds worker who was recently arrested when she marched on a McDonalds shareholders meeting demanding a living wage.

 

Bold and Progressive

To win back the South, we have to “be bold and think big,” said McMillian. “We need to unite people from all walks of life.”

McMillian was disappointed that some of the national labor unions and progressive organizations do not see the potential in organizing the South. “We will not only create a new south, but a new labor movement,” she said.

As they say at the closing of every Moral Monday event, “Forward Together, Not One Step Back!

 

 

Side note: MaryBe McMillian read an amazing poem called “Labor’s poem for a Moral March.” It is too long to include in this post, but here are the first few lines:


There’s too much corporate greed
And we have families to feed.

There are so few jobs, no decent wages.
Inequality tops the news pages.

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