By Doug Cunningham
Members of the American Federation of State ,County and Municipal Employees rallied in New York’s state capitol Tuesday to protest budget cuts and increases in what the union says are regressive consumption taxes. The economic crisis, AFSCME says, has hit New York particuary hard – putting ten percent of New Yorkers out of work/ New York has a budget deficit of $16 billion. AFSCME says Gov. David Paterson is proposing measures that will cause more problems for the people and the economy, instead of finding new revenue solutions and spreading the sacrifice among all citizens. AFSCME says dangerous cuts to healthcare, education and essential public services are not the way to go. Gov. Paterson laid off 8900 state employees in New York on Tuesday.
By Doug Cunningham
The United Electrical workers Chicago sitdowners won a victory with their sitdown strike in December and now they’ve won another round. The National Labor Relations Board has issued a decision agreeing with charges brought by UE against Republic Windows and Doors. They include violations of labor law through the creation of an alter-ego company to avoid collective bargaining obligations, illegally shutting down Chicago operations to transfer the work to a non-union Iowa plant, and failing to provide information for bargaining. The labor board will now to go Republic to seek a settlement of the charges.
By Doug Cunningham
Students and workers are uniting coast to coast for a week of action on issues ranging from the Employee Free Choice Act to anti-sweatshop activism to fair wages for campus workers. Ricardo Valadez is with Jobs With Justice.
[Valadez]: ““One of the issues hat students fight for is university policies that support fair labor practices on campus. These are workers that they have most contact with. They may generally support a living wage in their community, but when it comes to workers on their campus they tend to really get involved.”
This is the tenth annual student/labor week of action and it features a wave of teach-ins, protests, speakers, films and other creative actions. There are actions on more than 100 campuses. Maria Escobar, Student Labor Action Project says the economic crisis has put more students in touch with labor issues.
Over the past week, union members have made more than 4,000 calls and sent more than 8,000 letters to members of Congress urging them to support the Employee Free Choice Act to protect workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain.
Meanwhile, more and more small business owners, community members and lawmakers are indicating their support for the proposed legislation, which would level the playing field for workers seeking to form unions.
Events with entrepreneurs and business owners are taking place around the country as hundreds of business leaders are coming out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. One such business leader is Ray Kohl, owner of Goldenrod Printing in Lincoln, Neb.
The Employee Free Choice Act is important to me because I think employees need some control over their working environment. I think it’s really important that they have a say in their conditions that they work under, the benefits and pay that they receive for their work.
In Colorado, Rep. Betsy Markey met with members of the Postal Workers (APWU) last week to explain why she, as a member of Congress, a former business owner and a supporter of workers, has signed on as a co-sponsor:
For me, signing on to the Employee Free Choice Act was pretty much a no-brainer. It’s a good piece of legislation, it’s been a long-time coming. I did make a commitment to supporting it when I was a candidate because it was the right thing to do. You know, I come to union meetings like this on Saturday mornings and it’s men and women who are working hard, a lot of times you see kids there. They’re working for not just themselves but for their families and their kids.
We need to maintain a strong middle class, which we are losing quickly. This is the right thing to do. And I’ve told my friends at the Chamber of Commerce, “I’m going to be straight with you. Yes, I support the Employee Free Choice Act, it’s the right thing to do—you ought to as well.” I mean, management and workers need to both be sitting at the table and have an equal say.
In Missouri, state AFL-CIO director Randy Kiser reports that 213 union members met this week to call Sen. Claire McCaskill and ask her to support the Employee Free Choice Act.
And, in Pennsylvania, while the anti-union corporate front groups are attempting to claim working-class cred by sending “Joe the Plumber” on tour (a little bit like dancing the Macarena to show how hip and trendy you are), real plumbers are rallying in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.
What a difference a year makes. While the Bush White House tried to thwart workers’ rights and all that the late César Chávez fought for, Barack Obama adopted Chávez’s rallying cry as his campaign theme.
Today, on what would have been Chávez’s 82nd birthday, President Obama issued a statement hailing the former Farm Workers president as “an educator, environmentalist, and as a civil rights leader who struggled for fair treatment and fair wages for America’s workers.”
Chávez’s rallying cry, “Sí Se Puede”—”Yes, We Can,” was more than a slogan, it was an expression of hope and a rejection of those who said farm workers could not organize, and could not take on the growers. Through his courage, César Chávez taught us that a single voice could change our country, and that together, we could make America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation.
The AFL-CIO is supporting efforts to create a national holiday to honor Chávez. Last year during the presidential campaign, Obama said we should have a holiday for Chávez.
It’s time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union.
In a last-gasp effort to reward its corporate friends, the Bush administration—on the very day of Barack Obama’s inauguration—proposed a new regulation that could reduce Americans’ retirement security by allowing firms to give financial advice to workers who participate in their 401(k) plans on products where they have a financial interest.
Current laws prohibit such conflicts of interest and the Obama administration has put the regulation on hold.
At a congressional hearing last week, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, said:
If workers receive investment advice, it should be independent and free of conflicts of interest. During a time where American workers have already lost $2 trillion in assets due to last year’s market downturn, exposing their hard-earned retirement savings to greater risk by allowing advisers to offer them conflicted advice is irresponsible and imprudent.
Barbara Easterling, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, agrees:
The U.S. Labor Department should permit the education of retirees generally about investments, but should stop short of allowing specific recommendations when there could be a conflict of interest.
“The effect of legal protections for conflicted advice is quite predictable,” Mercer Bullard, president of Fund Democracy and associate professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law, told the panel.
Rather than promote the providing of independent financial advice to participants, the [new regulation] will promote conflicted advice, higher fees and lower investment returns.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined Security and Exchange Commission data on pension plans and found that undisclosed conflicts of interest could lead to low returns—and less secure retirements—than those plans that properly documented any financial interests. GAO’s Charles Jeszeck told the panel:
The threat posed to participants in account based retirement plans like 401(k)s, now the primary plan design in the United States, is quite direct. Since workers largely bear the risk of investment under this plan design, any factor, and decision that reduces the account’s rate of return can have potentially irreversible consequences for the participant’s retirement income.
Barack Obama is not the only U.S. president who supports the Employee Free Choice Act: America’s most famous fictional president is in Washington, D.C., today to stand alongside workers in support of the freedom to form unions.
As part of the union movement’s “Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act” campaign, workers like Dan Luevano and Asela Espiritu were joined by members of the cast of “The West Wing” in a rally in support of the Employee Free Choice Act on Capitol Hill this morning. Martin Sheen, who played fictional U.S. President Jed Bartlett in the long-running show, came to Washington along with actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff.
After this morning’s rally, workers traveled around Capitol Hill to visit U.S. senators and ask them to quickly pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would protect workers from management abuses and give employees, not their bosses, the choice about how to form a union and bargain for a better life.
Whitford thanked the workers for coming to Washington to speak out in favor of the freedom to form unions and against the broken system that takes power out of workers’ hands. He spoke eloquently about the need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
We must never forget these workers. This issue boils down to a simple fact: It is a fundamental right in this country for workers to be able to join unions and to bargain collectively. Unfortunately, as these workers will tell you, this is often not the case. Without the protections provided by the Employee Free Choice Act, workers looking to join unions are subject to harassment, disinformation and dismissal because of a system that is exploited by and stacked in favor of management.
The Employee Free Choice Act puts the process of whether or not to join a union and how it is done where it belongs, in the hands of the workers. We must not allow the political process to water down this fundamental right. We must not allow lawmakers to put political expediency ahead of this right.
Whitford said that the same corporate interests who oppose medical leave, workplace safety, oversight of the financial system and the minimum wage cannot be allowed to keep control over the process for forming unions through their multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign.
Workers, elected leaders and community allies also spoke this morning in support of this critical bill.
President Obama’s economic recovery plan sets aside $50 billion in grants and tax incentives to promote efficient and renewable energy. But the nation also must focus on training workers and rebuilding our manufacturing industries to take advantage of the growth in green jobs, experts told a congressional panel today.
Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance, told the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections that potential for a clean energy economy offers huge opportunities to revive American manufacturing and rebuild the nation’s economy. But “what’s not evident is whether we have the human capital or the political will to ensure the jobs are American.”
We don’t make most of the systems involved in producing clean energy. Fully half of America’s existing wind turbines were manufactured overseas. And we rank fifth among countries that manufacture solar components, even though the solar cell was born in America.
The fact that other countries are prepared to deliver these products—and we are not—means that every new American bill creating demand for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency services actually creates new jobs overseas, even though we have a robust manufacturing infrastructure and a skilled workforce.
We have an incredible opportunity to strengthen and expand America’s middle class by boosting our clean energy manufacturing sector.
The Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor, environmental and community leaders working to create a clean energy revolution in America, has developed Make It In America: the Apollo Green Manufacturing Action Plan (GreenMAP), a series of policy recommendations aimed at revitalizing America’s manufacturing sector by investing significant federal funding in the domestic manufacture of clean energy components.
Ringo told the subcommittee the alliance recommendations include:
- Providing direct federal funding for clean energy manufacturers to retool their facilities and retrain their workers to develop and produce clean energy technologies.
- Attaching standards to funding and conditioning federal support to manufacturers on their ability to meet labor and domestic content standards.
- Increasing funding for the Green Jobs Act and directing funds administered under the act toward workforce and skill standards development for the clean energy manufacturing industries.
- Creating a Presidential Task Force on Clean Energy Manufacturing to bring together a range of federal agencies to make the manufacturing of clean energy systems and components a national priority.
Along those same lines, the AFL-CIO recently created the Center for Green Jobs, which will expand the research, training and policy work in support of good green jobs. At the same time, the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department is leading a national initiative joining their affiliates and 1,100 apprenticeship training centers with community organizations to train workers for the opportunities offered by new energy investment.
To ensure we have enough qualified workers to fill the green jobs, Kathy Krepcio, executive director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, told the panel that states and communities should build partnerships between employers and unions through “green energy advisory councils” with the leaders of companies, utilities and unions.
Employers can identify demand for certifications, hiring and recruitment policies, and specific occupations, as well as which jobs will draw from labor unions. Since labor unions and employers often provide significant amounts of training themselves, they can also provide needed guidance on key gaps that exist within the education and training system that need to be filled. This will assist states to build training systems that build upon and support employer and union-led efforts rather than coming into competition with them.
The bottom line, though, is that a green economy benefits all Americans, subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said.
We know that green jobs are real. We know that green jobs enhance environmental quality, while creating good jobs right here at home. And we know that a green economy will transform this country and the world.