By Doug Cunningham
Building trades union workers rallied in Brooklyn Monday to protest non-union labor at a Pratt University construction site. Brian Wangerman is Business Agent for Steamfitters Local 638. He says union construction work economically benefits the entire local economy and Pratt University is making a mistake by building non-union.
[Wangerman]: “We are in the hope that Pratt opens up their doors, negotiates with us. We’re willin’ to work so that it benefits everybody involved.”
Wangerman says non-union construction is growing in New York City.
[Wangerman 2]: “There are a lot of people making a lot of money off the backs of a lot of other people.
By Doug Cunningham
More than 70 busloads of construction workers – many of them unemployed – converged on Indiana’s capitol Monday to protest proposed cuts in unemployment compensation. Pete Rimsans is with the Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council.
[Rimsans]: “It’s important to us ’cause the Senate Republican version here would essentially cut benefits on average of 25 percent. It would reduce benefits the longer you’re on unemployment. When people can’t find a job and there are none to be had, the longer you’re on it the more you really need it. We think the best thing for them to eventually do is increase what’s called the taxable wage base to somewhere near the national average.
By Doug Cunningham
GM is cutting 21,000 hourly jobs & closing 13 plants. Another 2,000 jobs will be cut in 2011.The United Auto Workers union continues to negotiate with GM in an effort to avoid bankruptcy and protect retiree pensions and health care. Under the GM restructuring plan announced today the federal government will own more than half of GM. But GM’s future may come down to what bondholders and banks decide to do. GM says if bondholders accept a stock swap for debt GM can avoid bankruptcy. A GM bankruptcy could bring down many more companies in the auto parts industry, affecting as many as 3 million jobs nationwide.
The very real threat of being killed or seriously hurt on the job hangs over every worker and workplace in the nation. In 2007—the year with the latest available figures—5,657 workers lost their lives on the job and more than 4 million other workers were hurt or made ill, according to the AFL-CIO’s 18th annual “Death on the Job” report.
“Death on the Job” reports that another 50,000 to 60,000 workers died due to occupational diseases. On an average day, 15 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries and disease, and another 10,959 are injured. Yet little has been done in recent years, says the report, to improve job safety and protect workers.
For eight years, the Bush administration failed to take action to address major safety and health problems. Many OSHA and [Mine Safety and Health Administration] MSHA rules were withdrawn or blocked. The rules that were issued were largely in response to court challenges, congressional mandates or tragedies. New and emerging hazards were not actively addressed. Voluntary efforts were favored over strong enforcement.
The report is released each year in conjunction with Workers Memorial Day. Unlike the past eight years, the U.S. Department of Labor will join the AFL-CIO, working families and their unions this year to mark the day set aside to honor those killed and hurt in the workplace and to fight for strong workplace safety laws to protect the living.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, along with family members of workers killed or injured, will take part in a Workers Memorial Day ceremony at the Department of Labor at 8 a.m. April 28. Later in the day, she will join AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and other union leaders and help break ground for a new national workers memorial at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md.
Also set for Workers Memorial Day is the first of two hearings this week by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee examining the need for stronger penalties for workplace safety violations and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) record on enforcing the nation’s workplace safety laws. The Senate Employment and Worker Safety subcommittee also will hold a job safety hearing April 28.
“Death on the Job” calls current civil penalties for employer violations of workplace safety laws
woefully inadequate, even in cases of workplace fatalities. The OSHAct’s criminal penalty provisions are also very weak and rarely utilized.
The report also notes that years of budget cuts and inadequate funding have crippled the safety agency’s ability to adequately enforce workplace safety standards.
OSHA funding and staffing has not kept pace with the growth in the nation’s workforce. As a result, OSHA’s ability to provide oversight has diminished with the average frequency of federal OSHA inspections now more than once every 137 years for covered workplaces.
The new Obama administration and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate hold the promise for new and stronger workplace safety standards, says Sweeney.
Working people are looking to the new President to strengthen the OSHAct with tougher civil and criminal penalties, increase funding for OSHA to provide greater oversight, and fully implement the provisions of the MINER Act.
Just last week, legislation (H.R. 2067) was introduced to strengthen health and safety penalties, bring more workers under the protection of OSHA, protect workers who blow the whistle on employers who break the law and strengthen worker safety rights.
The report also shows that Latino workers continue to face much higher risks of death on the job. In 2007, 937 Latino workers were killed on the job. The fatality rate among these workers was 4.6 per 100,000 workers, 21 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. Since 1992, the number of fatalities among Latino workers has increased by 76 percent from 533 fatal injuries in 1992.
The report provides an in-depth state-by-state analysis on workplace safety, the most dangerous occupations, a breakdown of fatalities by race, the dollar toll of workplace deaths and injuries, a look at OSHA inspection and enforcement actions and more.
Click here to download a copy of “Death on the Job.”
Hundreds of Workers Memorial Day events around the nation, including at Wildwood School in Los Angeles, where 12th graders will join with members of CLEAN (the Community Labor Environmental Action Network) and the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee (CWOC) of the United Steelworkers (USW), to spotlight the unsafe working conditions in the Southern California car wash industry.
In Boston, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and the Greater Boston Labor Council will hold a ceremony on the state House honoring Bay State workers killed on the job. MassCOSH will release its annual report “Dying for Work in Massachusetts: The Loss of Life and Limb in Massachusetts.” You can download a copy of the report at www.masscosh.org and www.massaflcio.org.
In Minnesota, unions will honor workers killed on the job at events in Apple Valley, Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis, Oakdale, Rochester and St. Paul.
The union movement is mourning the loss of AFGE vice president and AFL-CIO Executive Council member Andrea Brooks, 65, who died yesterday.
AFGE President John Gage said:
We are deeply saddened by the tremendous loss of a great friend to AFGE, the labor movement and to me personally. Andrea was an ardent fighter for civil, women’s and human rights in the workplace, and she will be sorely missed.
During the 2008 elections, Brooks led AFGE’s successful voter protection campaign and worked closely with several national organizations, including the AFL-CIO and Rock the Vote.
She was elected as AFGE’s vice president for women and fair practices in 2000.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called Brooks “a strong union leader and committed advocate for lifting up the voices of all people, particularly working women and people of color across the nation.”
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, who worked with Brooks closely on voting rights and election protection in the 2008 elections, said:
Andrea was never willing to be silent on the issue of worker justice. She was a passionate crusader for the rights of all working people, especially women, and she worked tirelessly to advance women within the labor community and the workforce.
Brooks began her union career at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, rising through the ranks of AFGE while working at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Brooks saw early on the importance of a union at the workplace. After training several men at the VA who went on to become her supervisors, she decided to become a steward with her AFGE local to clear up “what’s wrong with this picture.”
She soon rose to become chief steward, then vice president, secretary-treasurer, executive vice president and, finally, president for 10 years of AFGE Local 490 at the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Los Angeles.
Brooks also served as vice president of the California State AFL-CIO and helped to formulate the first federal sector subcommittee at the Los Angeles Central Labor Council.
As AFGE’s vice president for the union’s women’s and fair practices departments, Brooks worked to move her union into the forefront of civil rights activism, saying:
I want AFGE to be known as the civil rights union.
Brooks said she believed that too often minorities allowed others to define what is a ”minority right.” She said she was looking to mobilize “a civil rights movement” of all races and cultures.
Brooks is survived by three adult children and six grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
In recent days, more than a dozen new groups, including organizations from the civil rights and government accountability communities, have signed on in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.
The new groups join a broad coalition for workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain.
The coalition now includes more than 180 organizations supporting the legislation (H.B. 1409 and S. 560) introduced in March to allow workers to form unions when a majority indicates their desire to do so. Welcome to the new organizations in the coalition:
- American Association for Justice
- Barbara Chambers Children Center
- Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School
- Central American Resources Center
- Customs Employees Against Discrimination Association
- DC Students for a Democratic Society
- Empower DC
- Government Accountability Project
- Korean American Association of Maryland
- Mexicans Without Borders/Mexicanos sin Fronteras
- National Capitol Immigrant Coalition
- Organic Consumers Association
- Ramsay Merriam Fund
It bears repeating: Elections have consequences.
Great news from the White House, as three new appointments over the weekend show President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving workers’ lives and protecting their freedom on the job. Mary Beth Maxwell will head to the U.S. Department of Labor, while two experienced worker advocates—Craig Becker and Mark Pearce—have been nominated to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Maxwell, the executive director of American Rights at Work and a strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, has been named as a senior adviser to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and a member of Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force. She’ll bring to the administration a history of speaking out in support of workers and their freedom to bargain for a better life.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney offered congratulations to Maxwell on behalf of millions of workers who will benefit from her advocacy in the administration.
It is a great day for America’s working families who gain yet another strong advocate in the Obama Administration.
Mary Beth Maxwell has dedicated her career to fighting for workers’ rights and her appointment clearly spotlights the priority this administration puts on working men and women’s issues, especially in today’s economy. The union movement looks forward to continuing to work with her in her new role to create good-paying jobs, restore workplace standards and safety rules and reform our nation’s broken and outdated labor laws.
In addition to naming Maxwell to the task force, Obama has chosen two key allies of America’s working families to fill vacancies on the NLRB, the body that oversees the enforcement of our nation’s laws for protecting workers and their freedom to form unions. Becker and Pearce, two stronger worker advocates who have practiced and taught labor law for many years, will require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. When they’re confirmed, they’ll join new NLRB chair Wilma Liebman, an NLRB member Obama promoted to chair the board immediately upon taking office.
Becker, who serves as associate general council to the AFL-CIO and SEIU, is experienced in labor law as an appeals court clerk, a published scholar, a professor at the law schools of UCLA, Georgetown and the University of Chicago and is a practicing attorney before the Supreme Court.
Pearce, a founding partner of the Creighton, Pearce Johnson & Giroux law firm, has been a practicing employment lawyer and in 2008 was named to New York’s state Industrial Board of Appeals, a labor-law oversight body.
With Maxwell, Becker and Pearce’s appointments, Obama has shown his commitment to ensuring strong voices for workers have a place in his administration. It’s an encouraging sign of the change that working families across the country fought for in last year’s election.
This is a cross-post from The Huffington Post.
From meetings with Democratic state legislators in the Montana state capitol to engaging state political leaders in Denver, Louisiana, Nebraska, Arkansas to town hall meetings all across America to meetings with faith leaders from Montana to Louisiana to phone banks and letter writing gatherings to actions by civil rights leaders to debates with union busters in Alaska, New York and Baton Rouge to a Dr. King memorial in Omaha, Neb., to rallies and marches in Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of working folks and their allies created the largest and deepest grassroots legislative blitz in American labor history.
We gathered at almost 400 events to send the loudest possible message to the U.S. Senate: “We demand and expect you to pass the Employee Free Choice Act now.” We made 100,000 phone calls and delivered 50,000 handwritten letters. All of this occurred over the last two weeks during the congressional spring recess.
The American labor movement and corporate America are locked in the biggest, most high stakes legislative fight in two generations.
The labor movement is determined to pass the Employee Free Choice Act to restore the freedom of workers to form unions and bargain collectively, to end 30 years of stagnant and declining wages, to strengthen and deepen the middle class and to end the corporate assault on workers when they try to form unions.
Corporations and their right-wing allies want to preserve an increasingly untenable status quo: union busting, rampant retaliation against workers trying to organize, the greatest inequity in the United States since 1929, a declining and shrinking middle class, an economic crisis created in part by a severe lack of consumer demand, growing poverty, and a severe health care crisis.
I was privileged to spend those two weeks and a third on the road debating the other side, rallying union members and our allies, doing dozens of media interviews, and two debates.
After getting blown off course in a Colorado snow storm, I joined my old friend Jim Hightower to speak at a large and energetic Communications Workers of America (CWA) district convention in Denver. Later that night I spoke at two local union meetings.
The next morning I met with progressive Colorado state legislators and leaders of progressive non-profits about the necessity of enacting the Employee Free Choice Act to restore an exit route from poverty. Then on to a great rally in Colorado Springs and a student forum that night in Boulder.
From Colorado to New York to debate two union busters at Hofstra Law School. The Long Island Central Labor Council turned out to cheer me on. We solidly thumped the union busters.
Back on a plan to Nebraska where I spoke to a large IBEW local, then did interviews with the state’s three largest newspapers and largest radio station. On Saturday, April 4, we held a commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King who was killed on that date in 1968 helping to lead a struggle of Memphis sanitation workers to organize a union and bargaining collectively with the city. Dr. King left us unfinished business.
On Sunday I flew back over the Great Plains to Helena, Mont. That Monday was the meeting at the state capitol with the speaker of the House and 30 members of the Democratic Caucus speaking out for the Employee Free Choice Act.
For the next two days we crisscrossed the very large state of Montana to Butte, Missoula, Billings and back to Helena to rally all the leaders of the state building and construction trades unions, other union leaders, faith leaders, students and faculty members in Missoula while doing interviews for all three of the state’s largest papers, statewide NPR and TV.
Last week it was Louisiana. On one day, April 15, we rallied the New Orleans labor movement at the Plumbers Hall, did six different radio and newspaper interviews and a 90-minute editorial board meeting with seven reporters and editors of the Baton Rouge daily. Later, the crawfish and Abita beer tasted especially good.
The last day of the tour began with a 45-minute drive-time interview on statewide NPR. We got a surprising number of pro-union, pro-Employee Free Choice Act calls. From there we went to a debate with another union buster hosted by the League of Women Voters. Both debates on the tour were filmed. We hope to get them up on You Tube and The Huffington Post.
Now the recess is over, but the action isn’t. The United Steelworkers and the CWA and other unions are greatly increasing the heat on Republican Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. He had been a co-sponsor of the legislation, but recently announced he opposed it after another Republican announced he will challenge Specter in the primary.
I go to Alaska next week, then back to Arkansas.
And union activists across America will keep the heat on.
Just days before a federally imposed deadline, the UAW announced last night it had reached a settlement agreement with Chrysler, Fiat and the U.S. Treasury Department.
After rejecting Chrysler’s viability plan in February, President Obama gave Chrysler workers and the company a second chance, union officials said. This concessionary agreement, while painful, takes advantage of this opportunity, the union said.
The settlement agreement, subject to ratification by UAW members at Chrysler, meets the requirements of U.S. Treasury Department loans to the company. It includes modifications to the union’s 2007 collective bargaining agreement and the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association trust.
“We recognize this has been a long ordeal for active and retired auto workers, and a time of great uncertainty,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.
The patience, resolve and determination of UAW members in these difficult times is extraordinary, and has made it possible for us to reach the agreement we will present to our membership.
In the face of incredibly trying circumstances, UAW Chrysler members have risen to the occasion, day in and day out, building top quality vehicles in a productive manner.
UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who heads the union’s Chrysler Department, says the ratification process must be finished by April 29. He says every stakeholder must step up to save the company.
Once again, our active and retired members are being asked to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to help Chrysler return to viability. In order for the company to have a sustainable future, all stakeholders will have to show the same willingness to contribute to the common good that has been demonstrated repeatedly by our membership.