By Doug Cunningham
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee is joining with United American Nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Association to form a 150,000-member nurse’s union. When the unions complete their merger in with a national founding convention in December it will become the largest registered nurse’s union in U.S. history. The new nurses “super-union” will focus on organizing non-union nurses. The new combined union will also push for comprehensive health care reform. Next week they are working together to co-sponsor a nationa lRN Day of Action in Washington, D.C. that will emphasize the nurse to patient ratio issue. RN union representation and health care reform. California Nurses Assocaition Co-President Deborah Burger says the collective strength and unity of the new organization will have a n enormous impact on improving the lives and workplace standards for all RN’s and will help nurses deliver higher quality care to patients.
The Troy New York Area labor Council has become the most recent labor organization to call on the AFL-CIO to endorse a bill in the United States House of Representatives that would provide single payer health care. The Troy labor council is the one hundred twenty seventh labor council to endorse bill HR676 which was introduced by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. The labor council wants the AFL-CIO to put the endorsement up for a vote during the AFL-CIO convention in September.
The Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress have pledged to move forward with establishing a new healthcare system for the country, but not everyone has a seat at the table deciding what the best system should be. Jesse Russell has more:
Tuesday morning the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing regarding the future of healthcare in the United States featuring 15 witnesses, however, not a single witness was a supporter of single payer healthcare. Wanting their voices to be heard a number of doctors and advocates stood up at the start of the session and demanded a seat at the table and as they spoke they were immediately escorted out of the room and arrested by Capitol police.
This Mother’s Day, remember the mothers in Colombia who grew, cut and trimmed the flowers you receive. Six days a week, Amanda Camacho and thousands of her co-workers at flower plantations in Colombia cut and trim at least 350 flowers an hour. In the weeks before holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, the work extends deep into the night—all for about $8 a day, less than the cost of a bouquet of carnations in the United States.
Speaking today at a brown bag luncheon at the AFL-CIO in Washington, Camacho, a Colombian union leader and activist, said the mostly female flower workers in Colombia are treated like slaves and the flower companies’ claims that they are treating their workers well are simply “lies.’
Camacho begins a national tour next week sponsored by the International Labor Rights Forum’s (ILRF) Fairness in Flowers campaign, Jobs with Justice (JwJ), the Coalition of Labor Union Women and U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP).
More than 60 percent of the flowers sold in the United States come from Colombia. Two-thirds of the nearly 100,000 flower workers in Colombia are women, many working mothers. They often are required to work 12 to 15 hours a day with few breaks. Although they generally work long hours, the flower workers often are denied overtime pay.
In conjunction with the tour, USLEAP has designed two Mother’s Day cards, each featuring a photo of a Colombian flower worker and her child. On the back of the card, the recipient can read about women who work in the flower industry in Colombia and their efforts to form effective unions on their plantations. You can place your Mother’s Day card order here. Click here to learn about other ways you can help the flower workers.
Camacho is president of ASOPAPAGAYO, a union of workers from the Agricola Papagayo plantations. A single mother of two adolescent boys, she has been working at the same flower plantation for 14 years. She says she has stayed at the company as a strategy to organize and work toward better conditions for all flower workers.
Camacho has more than the fortitude it takes to organize a union—she knows she’s risking her life. Thousands of Colombian trade unionists have been killed for their work in the labor movement. Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be a union member, with some 2,697 unionists killed in the past 23 years, a rate of one every three days.
Camacho helped the workers at the Papagayo plantations form a union—a big victory for women who are treated like second-class citizens, she says.
We created the union ourselves. We gained our dignity.
While on the job, the women who cut and care for the flowers in greenhouses suffer numerous health problems, Camacho says, because the work can be backbreaking. The repetitive motions frequently cause carpal tunnel syndrome and back troubles, and workers often suffer headaches after inhaling pesticides all day in the extreme heat.
Yet when the women go to the doctor, they often find out that employers have not paid into the nation’s health care system as required by law, even though they take the premiums out of the women’s pay. And when the women return with a doctor’s note saying they can’t perform certain jobs, the supervisors ignore the notes.
Overall, the workers have learned that “organizing people really works,” Camacho says.
The fight now is to organize more workers. The only way to enforce your rights is to organize.
As the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act heats up, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) is helping clarify the issues involved with a new video, “How Not to Form a Union.” The animated clip gives a real-world explanation of how the process for forming a union works and how badly the deck is stacked against workers who want the chance to bargain for a better life.
The video elaborates on some of the serious flaws in the process that the Employee Free Choice Act would rectify:
- Workers are required to gather signatures to begin the process, but after that, management is in charge of deciding how to proceed, even when a majority of employees want a union.
- Management controls the ballot election process, and workers are subject to abuses at the hands of the people who control their pay and their schedules.
- Penalties for firing workers who seek a union are so minimal many corporations make it standard practice—”the price of doing business.”
- The ability of corporations to control the process and force workers to attend mandatory meetings means that the election isn’t as fair as the phrase “secret ballot” suggests.
- Even after workers win and get their union certified, there’s no guarantee corporations will negotiate a fair first contract. In far too many cases, management stalls and delays to prevent a contract settlement.
As the video concludes:
Americans have suffered long enough under labor laws that jeopardize our democratic rights. We need real labor law reform that sets up a fair selection process, encourages first contract negotiations and penalizes lawbreakers.
The video may be a cartoon, but the events it shows are all-too real. Hard-working people who are supporting families are the victims of unchecked corporate power deployed against workers who want to form unions. Workers like Kelly Beringer, Billy Mason and Dianne Heeley, all of whom have experienced harassment and intimidation by their bosses when they sought to form a union. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is an issue of basic fairness, of the freedom to bargain for a better life, and the broken system needs to be changed.
Flight service specialists, health care employees and aluminum mill workers are among the latest workers to win a voice at work and a union card with AFL-CIO unions. Meanwhile in New Mexico, child care workers have just won the right to join unions and bargain for better lives.
More than 800 Automated Flight Service Specialists at Lockheed Martin voted to join the Machinists (IAM). The Flight Service Specialists work at 12 sites and three hub facilities across the continental United States and Hawaii.
Their duties include pre-flight, in-flight, operational and special services, en route communications, search and rescue and pre- and in-flight meteorological and aeronautical briefings. Says IAM Vice President Rich Michalski:
This is a great victory for them and a strong signal that in these tough economic times, workers want the benefits of union representation—job security, a secure retirement and the pay and benefits that support a healthy middle class.
Also, 60 production and maintenance workers at the Aluminum Rolling Mill of Koenig & Vits in Manitowoc, Wis., and 17 mechanics who maintain school buses for First Student in Naperville, Yorkville and Grand Ridge, Ill., voted to join IAM.
Meanwhile, following several successful elections and majority sign-up wins around the country, more than 1,200 workers are the newest members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
Under majority sign-up, an employer agrees to recognize the workers’ choice to join a union when a majority of the workers signs union authorization cards. It’s a key part of the Employee Free Choice Act and eliminates the employer intimidation and harassment many workers face when trying to form unions. One of the recent wins shows just how far an employer will go to deny even a small group of workers union representation.
Last week, 13 technicians at Verizon Business’s international group in New York City voted overwhelmingly—by a 10–3 margin—for representation with CWA Local 1101. But organizers say the workers had to withstand a management campaign that included scare letters, captive audience meetings (five within three weeks) and even a last-minute meeting with the company’s executive vice president.
Also joining CWA in New York are 303 service employees at St. Joseph Hospital near Buffalo who voted for CWA Local 1168. A unit of 63 licensed practical nurses and medical technicians at the Faxton campus of the Faxton-St. Luke’s Health Center, in Utica, N.Y., voted for CWA Local 1126.
In addition, hundreds of workers in several states signed up with CWA:
- In New York City, CWA Local 1180 was recently certified as the bargaining representative for more than 400 administrative managers who work for agencies through the city government.
- More than 300 medical interpreters and clinical research coordinators at the University of California medical centers have joined the Union of Professional and Technical Employees-CWA Local 9119.
- In Somerset, N.J., 160 school bus drivers for the county’s school system joined CWA Local 1040.
- In Youngstown, Ohio, all employees at the Print Factory joined Erie Mailers Local M128/CWA Local 14840.
In New Mexico last month, more than 3,000 home child care providers won the right to join a union to improve their lives and quality of home child care services in the state. Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that covers registered and licensed providers who take care of children through New Mexico’s child care assistance program. Says AFSCME Council 18 President Andrew Padilla:
When we started this campaign about three years ago, child care providers had dwindled from 4,000 to about 2,500. That means that 1,500 of them had stopped doing the job and when that happens, there is nobody to care for these children of working class families. This bill will help them gain more access to training and provide a better quality of child care.
The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO has issued an urgent appeal for workers across the country to write President Obama urging him to stop Chrysler from shutting down an engine plant in Kenosha, Wis., and shipping the 800 jobs to Mexico.
Workers and supporters from the Kenosha community rallied yesterday at the local UAW hall to protest the closing. Adding insult to injury, these 800 jobs are being exported as part of a taxpayer funded bailout, according to the state federation.
The state federation is asking that you act today and copy and send the following message to President Obama by e-mail or regular mail:
Dear President Obama,
I call on you today to intervene to save the Chrysler Kenosha Engine Plant from closing at the same time that Chrysler will be opening an engine plant in Mexico. It would be a betrayal of your goal of investing in America if Chrysler is allowed to close the Kenosha plant and import the very same engine from Mexico.
You did the right thing by standing up to the wealthy investors to protect the pensions and health care of Chrysler retirees. Please do the right thing for 800 Wisconsin workers and force Chrysler to keep the Kenosha Engine Plant open.
[Sign and print your name.]
[Include your address for verification purposes.]
Mail letters to: President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20500.
Or you can send the Obama administration an e-mail message here.
Update: The LCLAA leadership forum set for this weekend has been rescheduled to Oct. 1-4.
Latinos make up the fastest growing segment of the workforce and union movement. To gain a better life for themselves and their families, Latinos and all workers need the freedom to form unions and bargain.
LCLAA members from across the Midwest will meet this weekend in Chicago for the first of three regional leadership development forums. At this forum and at future gatherings in Philadelphia and in Orange County, Calif., LCLAA members will develop strategies to build support for the legislation and expand organizing.
In a recent study, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between 2007 and 2008, Latinos made up nearly 30 percent of the new union members. The value of unions to Latinos is clear. Latino union members make 43 percent higher median wages than Latinos who don’t have a union. Those and other demographics of the Latino community make union membership especially helpful to Latinos, says Gabriela Lemus, executive director of LCLAA. For example:
- The income of one in six Latino seniors is below the poverty level. Joining a union would mean that they would more likely be prepared for retirement.
- Latinos are among the youngest population group in the United States with a median age more than 10 years younger than the median age for the U.S. population overall. Union membership would assist them in earning a livable wage. It also could move many into jobs where they learn more skills, take on greater responsibilities and gain added benefits.
- Union workers are 28.2 percent more likely to be covered by employer health insurance, have better insurance because employers are more likely to pay for a higher share of family coverage. A higher percentage of Latino workers are uninsured than in any other group in the country.
In a recent letter to LCLAA members, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said linking politics to organizing is critical for all union members, including Latinos.
The Latino community will play an integral role in strengthening these linkages. At the same time the policies that…Congress and the Obama administration are addressing, including the Employee Free Choice Act, health care reform [and] immigration reform will have a significant impact on the Latino community.
One of the most important priorities for progressives inside and outside the union movement is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the freedom they need to bargain for a better life and have a real voice in the workplace.
As part of its Salon Series of grassroots events around the country, Netroots Nation, a nonprofit organization for the advancement of online political activism, will host “Can the Netroots help make the Employee Free Choice Act law?” a discussion of where the Employee Free Choice Act stands and the role that the online progressive movement can play in helping to move it forward. The AFL-CIO is co-sponsoring this great conversation.
During these critical weeks as the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act is under way, the discussion will focus on how the progressive movement can work online to help cut through the multimillion-dollar corporate opposition and help pass this bill.
The event is happening Friday, May 8, at the AFL-CIO, 815 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C., from noon to 2 p.m. You can RSVP for this event here.
Christopher Hayes, Washington editor for The Nation and a sharp observer of politics and policy, will moderate the discussion. Panelists will include the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff and Laura Clawson of Working America and Daily Kos, as well as Michael Whitney of SEIU and Rebecca Wasserman of American Rights at Work.