New York workers are feeling more confident. According to the New York Employee Confidence Report, the confidence level of employees in the Empire State increased by 1.4 points in April. Even with that slight increase two-thirds of workers are concerned about losing a job, only 36 percent are confident they will be able to find a new job, and 46 percent of workers believe the economy will continue to weaken.
Workers in North Carolina rallied in Raleigh on Tuesday for an end to a collective bargaining ban. Jesse Russell reports:
Workers and their supporters lobbied on Tuesday for an end to a 50 year ban on the right of state workers to collectively bargain. North Carolina and Virginia are the only two states in the union that out right deny state workers the representation of a public employees union. The labor supporters called on the state legislature to pass two bills that would repeal the 50 year old act. If that happened workers could then allow unions to represent them in contract negotiations. Overall, only 3.5 percent of North Carolina’s workers are in a union, that’s the lowest rate in the country. On Tuesday North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber said the bill was originally passed to prevent black workers from organizing.
By Doug Cunningham
A hundred workers facing a plant closing at Quad City Die Casting in Moline, Illinois are taking on Wells Fargo bank in an effort to save their jobs. The bank is refusing to extend credit to keep the plant open. The workers are represented by UE, as were the Republic Windows workers in Chicago who took on Wells Fargo with a successful sit-in and saved their plant back in December. UE’s Leah Fried.
[Fried]: “As long as the banks take our money and then turn around and kill our jobs, I think there’s going to be more and more resistance – because this is not acceptable. Banks have to be held accountable for the mess they got us in and they have to be held accountable for the billions and billions of dollars that they took from us. And they need to be told that your job is to make sure our economy keeps going.”
By Doug Cunningham
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says America’s workers applaud the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sweeney says she would bring to the high court a direct and personal understanding of the struggles America’s workers endure every day. Judge Sotomayor is a Bronx native who grew up in a public housing project, the daughter of a factory worker. The AFL-CIO says Judge Sotomayor interprets labor laws in the manner in which they were intended – to protect workers.
By Doug Cunningham
GM is expected to announce Wednesday morning the results of its efforts to get bondholders to trade its debt for ten percent of the company’s stock. Bondholders are balking, even though it means GM will be forced into bankruptcy if it fails to exchange 90 percent of the bond debt for its stock. Bondholders had sought 58 percent of GM stock. They have complained that the UAW got a better deal in stock for the money GM owes the union for retiree health care.
The nation’s economic crisis is the result of failed trade policies and the lack of a U.S. industrial policy that creates and sustains good manufacturing jobs, according to Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) President Bill Lucy.
In his keynote address before 1,200 delegates at the CBTU’s annual convention May 21-25 in Atlanta, Lucy pointed out that as bad as the economy is for all working people, workers of color have been hardest hit. The strides made by African American workers in the 1990s have been wiped out in this current economic crisis, Lucy said, and millions of people of color are no longer making middle-class incomes. (See Video: May 21, Tab 16.)
The time has come to recognize that this is a key moment to make sweeping changes and turn the country around, he said. Quoting former President Franklin Roosevelt, Lucy said:
“Do you judge a nation’s greatness by what it gives those who already have too much or by what it gives to those who have too little? That question is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.”
Lucy, secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, made it clear that the 2008 elections, which brought Barack Obama to the White House and a more worker-friendly Congress to Washington, presented a great opportunity for the union movement. Many speakers echoed Lucy, noting that now is a special moment in American history.
At a town hall meeting on the economy, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker emphasized that the union movement must build on the momentum of the historic 2008 Working Families Vote mobilization. (See Videos: May 22, Tabs 4 and 9.)
Many white union members who first opposed Obama because of his race ended up supporting him because he stood with workers and supported working family issues, Trumka said. But now the union movement must move beyond the election and understand that Obama’s election is not the end of racism. Added Trumka:
The danger within the labor movement is that we try to define every problem in strictly economic terms. Because of that, to the extent unions talk about racial injustice at all, we characterize it as a subset of economic injustice.
But not every issue can be cut as economic.
If we want to prevent white members from falling into the trap of believing that racism is now a thing of the past, I think that we, as a movement, we have a responsibility to educate them that there is a racial dynamic to the issues we face.
He pointed to health care as an example, saying that even if we solved the problems of high co-pays and cost shifting, African Americans still would have less access to quality health care.
Holt Baker said Roosevelt listened to workers at the height of the Great Depression and supported laws that opened up opportunities for working people to enter the middle class. Now President Obama has the same opportunity to rebuild the middle class by supporting and signing the Employee Free Choice Act.
One of the solutions, not the panacea, to the problems we face in our economy is [restoring] the ability for workers to freely form and join unions, so we can once again bargain our way to the middle class.
CBTU presented a special award to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who is retiring this year. Sweeney told delegates he has been “honored every day to work as your president. There is no higher calling than representing working families.” (See Video: May 24, Tab 16.)
I’m excited. I’m optimistic. The possibilities are endless, and I think we’re looking at a future where our goals will be realized: health care, the freedom to join a union and bargain for a better life, an economy that works for everyone, union leadership that reflects the faces of our members.
It’s a special moment. Let’s grab it. And let’s not let anything get in our way.
Other speakers at the convention included Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.), Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Council.
Good Jobs First today launched a new website, www.AccountableRecovery.org, as part of its new States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery (STAR) Coalition. STAR is a network, which promotes state and local activism to ensure the $787 billion in spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is transparent, accountable, fair and effective.
The new site breaks down economic recovery information for each state and the District of Columbia:
- An evaluation of each state’s Recovery Act website, especially with regard to disclosure of contractor information.
- Details on Recovery Act oversight policies and structures.
- A synopsis of policy debates on the issues of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act occurring in the state.
- Key data such as total funding the state is expected to receive.
- Listings of watchdog organizations, their Recovery Act publications and other resources.
The STAR Coalition includes national organizing networks such as the Apollo Alliance, Center for Community Change, Common Cause, National People’s Action, Transportation Equity Network, Partnership for Working Families, Smart Growth America and U.S. PIRG, as well as many of their state and local affiliates.
In many states, these watchdog groups will help expand and update the state pages.
The STAR website will be expanded throughout 2009 and 2010 as new data becomes available from the federal government. Currently, only a handful of states have any reporting data on their recovery websites.
Three former union members and leaders—with the Air Line Pilots (ALPA), Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) and Seafarers (SIU)—won U.S. Senate conformation last week for top posts in the Obama administration. All three were approved by voice vote.
Capt. Randy Babbitt, a 25-year veteran of commercial airline and a former two-term ALPA president, will steer the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
ALPA President Capt. John Prater says:
Babbitt’s experience as an airline pilot, union president, aviation consultant and member of numerous government and industry advisory committees will serve him well as he leads our industry.
Under the Bush administration, the FAA broke off bargaining with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) over a new contract in 2006 and imposed a set of harsh new working conditions and pay cuts. The Obama administration has begun a mediation process to reach an agreement. Babbitt, says NATCA President Patrick Forrey,
has the opportunity to do great things with our National Airspace System and restore the credibility of an agency in need of a priority readjustment and severe morale boosting….But first, this workforce must be assured that its help is wanted and not ignored like the last several years. It is time for a restoration of fairness to FAA labor relations and the opening of the door of collaboration and mutual respect.
Linda Puchala, former AFA-CWA president, was confirmed for a seat on the National Mediation Board (NMB). She currently serves as a senior mediator with the NMB and was AFA-CWA president from 1979 to 1986.
The three-member NMB is the federal agency charged with overseeing collective bargaining and representation under the Railway Labor Act, which was enacted to protect workers’ rights to organize unions and engage in free and fair collective bargaining in the aviation and rail industries.
AFA-CWA President Patricia Friend says Puchala’s “experience and vast commitment to workers’ rights and to the collective bargaining process” will help
restore the integrity of this vital federal agency. For years, the NMB has operated under arcane and unreasonable rules that make it difficult for workers to organize and bargain contracts.
Seth Harris, a former SIU field representative, was confirmed as deputy secretary at the Labor Department. He is currently the director of labor and employment law programs at New York Law School and, during the Clinton administration, served as acting assistant secretary of labor for policy.
The Daily Labor Report (subscription required) wrote that Harris, at his May 7 confirmation hearing, pledged to renew the Labor Department’s commitment to strategic planning and accountability. He also said the Labor Department ”must welcome working people” into its decision making processes and he hopes to build “constructive, problem-solving relationships” with the unions that represent the department’s employees.
Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a South Bronx, N.Y., housing project after her parents moved there from Puerto Rico during World War II. Today, she is a U.S. Senate confirmation vote away from taking a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Obama today nominated the U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the 2nd Circuit to the High Court where, if confirmed, she would be the first Hispanic to serve. Says Obama:
What Sonia will bring to the court…is not only the knowledge and experience acquired over a course of a brilliant legal career, but the wisdom accumulated from an inspiring life’s journey.
Praising her nomination, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says Sotomayor possesses a “direct and personal understanding of the struggles America’s workers endure every day.”
She grew up in public housing in the Bronx, the daughter of a factory worker, and understands the real world consequences of the decisions she makes from the bench.
During this morning’s White House announcement, Sotomayor said:
I firmly believe in the rule of law as the foundation for all of our basic rights…[and will] never forget the real-world consequences of my decisions.
Valedictorian of her high school class, Sotomayor won a scholarship to Princeton University and earned her law degree at Yale University, where she served as editor of the Yale Law Review.
Sotomayor, 54, has served as prosecutor, litigator, trial court and appellate court judge. She was first appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and to her current seat on the federal appeals bench in 1997 by President Bill Clinton. Pointing to her wide legal experience, Obama says:
Walking in the door, she would bring more experience on the bench and more varied experience on the bench than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.
Sweeney says Sotomayor “has consistently interpreted our labor laws in the manner in which they were intended.”
She has enforced the right to be free of all types of discrimination in the workplace, to be paid the correct wages and to receive health benefits to which employees are entitled. She has recognized that persecution for union activity can be a basis for granting asylum in this country.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), says that along with her “common sense understanding of how laws affect the realties of people’s daily lives,
Judge Sotomayor is also the first Latino to be nominated to the high court. She is a first generation American and grew up in the South Bronx—fulfilling another of President Obama’s promises to add diversity of background to the Supreme Court.