Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Franken Winner in Senate Race
UPDATE 4:41 p.m.: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has announced he will certify the election.
UPDATE 4:02 p.m.: Former Sen. Norm Coleman has conceded. Al Franken will be the next senator from Minnesota.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, after nearly eight months of counting and appeals, has ruled that Al Franken won the election to be Minnesota’s next U.S. senator.
Franken was endorsed by the AFL-CIO last year and union members worked hard on his behalf.
In the ruling, available here, the five state Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed:
For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. 32 Stat. § 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota.
UPDATE: Here’s what AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney had to say about this important decision:
America’s workers congratulate Al Franken—and the people of Minnesota who have gone 226 days without a second Senator—for their unanimous victory today in the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Working families are facing many challenges including a tough economy, lack of health care coverage and an out of balance economic system where workers do not have a voice at their job. With these colossal issues at stake it is essential that Minnesotans have both their Senators to represent them and we urge Governor Pawlenty to immediately sign the election certificate so Franken can get to work.
The seating of Senator Franken is also a crucial step towards passing the Employee Free Choice Act that will allow workers to have a voice at work, lift their standard of living and build stronger communities as well as stronger families. We urge the Senate to move forward swiftly on this crucial piece of legislation as well as health care reform, financial re-regulation and all the crucial issues facing working families.
20,000 University of Wisconsin Faculty Gain Bargaining Rights
More than 20,000 faculty members at two midwestern universities are one step closer to good union contracts. Yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed the state’s biennial budget, which includes a provision extending collective bargaining rights to more than 20,000 University of Wisconsin (UW) faculty, academic staff and research assistants.
The same day, some 430 instructors and adjunct faculty at Western Michigan University (WMU) voted for the Professional Instructors Organization (PIO), an AFT affiliate, to represent them.
The University of Wisconsin victory capped a 40-year effort by faculty members to gain a better life by joining a union. The new law extends to 6,600 full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty and 13,100 academic staff, which includes part-time and full-time lecturers, adjuncts, advisers, IT technicians and others. Another provision gives 3,200 research assistants the right to determine whether they want representation through the state’s first majority sign-up process.
The UW academics were the only nonmanagement public employees in the state without bargaining rights—until now. AFT-Wisconsin President Bryan Kennedy credits the continued building of workers’ political strength for the victory.
We’ve had the same legislation introduced in the three previous legislative cycles. Each time, we’ve had a chance to educate people and bring them around.
At Western Michigan University, the PIO soon will begin discussions with the WMU administration about better working conditions. Many instructors at WMU have not received any salary increase for 12 years.
Says Karl Schrock, who teaches in WMU’s School of Music:
We are confident that our organizing will help university leaders to see that part-time faculty are an essential component (along with tenure-line faculty and graduate teaching assistants) in the educational enterprise at WMU. We look forward to working with the administration to improve communication, faculty recognition and long-term planning for the university’s mission in ways that will benefit students and the university community as a whole.
These wins follow several other votes in Michigan over the past two years. During that time, new unions representing contingent faculty and graduate employees have formed at Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Henry Ford Community College and Wayne State University, all affiliated with AFT Michigan.
Postal Unions Slam Saturday Mail Cut Plan
Six days a week, 144 million U.S. homes and businesses count on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to deliver the mail. Now, in a cost-cutting move, the USPS wants to slash Saturday mail delivery and the nation’s two largest postal unions say it is a disastrous proposal.
Letter Carriers (NALC) President Bill Young says stopping six-day delivery would have a profound impact on the Postal Service, its costumers and Letter Carriers across the country:
The NALC’s position on this issue should be crystal clear: We oppose the elimination of six-day delivery. Downsizing the Postal Service to meet the needs of a severely depressed economy is short-sighted and self-defeating—it will cost us tens of thousands of jobs and open the way to competitors to provide service on the sixth day.
The USPS is conducting a study of dropping Saturday delivery as part of an overall move to cut costs and is seeking comments from various stakeholders. Postal Workers (APWU) President William Burrus says his advice is simple: “Don’t do it!”
In a letter to the USPS, Burrus writes:
The consequences of the proposed change far outweigh the expected monetary benefits associated with delivery reduction….Although the changes are intended to reduce personnel costs, any service organization that reduces service invites its own demise. History will record this act as the first step in the dismantling of the United States mail system.
For more on the unions’ response to the USPS budget-cutting proposals and their impact on service, customers and jobs, click here and here.
AFL-CIO: Honduras Coup Is ‘Unconscionable’
The AFL-CIO today called on the U.S. government and the international community, particularly the Organization of American States and the United Nations, to “make every effort” to restore constitutional order in Honduras and reinstate democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup Sunday.
In a statement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the coup “an unconscionable attack on the fundamental rights and liberties of the Honduran people.” He urged governments to condemn the coup and withhold recognition of the current government. Zelaya was ousted after pushing for a referendum on proposed changes that would allow the president to run for re-election and create new procedures for amending the constitution.
The recent internal conflict relating to the proposed constitutional referendum cannot in any way justify the extra-constitutional measures undertaken by the armed forces. These measures are a flagrant violation of the most basic democratic principles and of the rule of law.
Sweeney said eyewitness reports are coming in that thousands of people, including trade union members, were tear-gassed by the military simply for assembling to demand the return to democratic order and the reinstating of Zelaya.
We call on the United States government to also take all measures within its diplomatic powers to ensure that all Honduran civilians, and particularly trade unionists and social activists denouncing the coup, are safe and secure and will not be victimized by violence and repression.
Sweeney said the federation stands in solidarity with our sister organizations of Honduras, the national trade union centrals—the Unitary Central of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH) and the General Workers Central (CGT)—as well as with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), representing more than 45 million workers of this hemisphere, in condemning the coup.
Meanwhile, three major public-sector unions in Honduras announced plans for a general strike today in support of Zelaya, according to CNN. “It will be an indefinite strike,” Oscar Garcia, vice president of the Honduran water workers union told CNN.
We don’t recognize this new government imposed by the oligarchy and we will mount our campaign of resistance until President Manuel Zelaya is restored to power.
Garcia estimated that 30,000 public-sector workers, as well as some private-sector workers and peasant farmers, might join the strike.
Finally, a group of five U.S. union members led by Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Sacramento (Calif.) Labor Council, who were visiting Honduras and got caught up in the turmoil of the coup, were able to leave the country yesterday and return home.
Labor Secretary Solis: ‘Level the Playing Field’
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Elections have consequences. Speaking today in an interview with The Washington Post, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis re-affirmed the administration’s commitment to passing the Employee Free Choice Act and restoring workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain.
Here’s what Solis had to say about why we need the Employee Free Choice Act:
I think it helps to level the playing field because, in many cases, workers have been disadvantaged. They’ve been intimidated, they’ve been harassed, and we have case after case after case that we can look at. And you probably hear from the opposing side, that they will say, “Well, no, there have been successes where people have been able to organize, and they have been able to push forward a unionization.” But when you look at the attempts that have been made over the past few years…there have been barriers that have been put up. And I think that the past administration was not very favorable for unions. They were not supportive in many ways.
A video of the interview with Solis, which includes a discussion of green jobs, the unemployment rate, worker training and wages, is available here, and a transcript is available here.
It’s refreshing to have an advocate for working families in such a critical position. Solis is the child of two union members and has a record in Congress of supporting workers—including co-sponsoring the Employee Free Choice Act.
Make no mistake, this is going to be a tough fight against determined corporate opposition, but the efforts of working families in 2006 and 2008 have given us strong pro-worker majorities in Congress, a president who will sign the Employee Free Choice Act and a secretary of labor who actually fights on behalf of workers.
President Barack Obama and his administration have reiterated several times their continued support for the Employee Free Choice Act. Working families won in 2008, and now it’s time to make our economy work for everyone again.
New Plant Closing Bill: ‘FOREWARNED’ Is Better Armed
The WARN Act, passed in 1988, was supposed to require employers to give workers and the surrounding community a 60-day advance notice of mass layoffs, providing workers a head start in preparing to find another job and communities a chance to brace for the economic impact.
But loopholes, exceptions and weak enforcement have undermined the act, say a group of lawmakers who have introduced new legislation (S. 1734 and H.R. 3042) to strengthen the WARN Act—the Federal Oversight, Reform and Enforcement of the WARN Act (FOREWARN).
Says Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the chief sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.):
Mass layoffs send shock waves through individual households and entire communities. This bill is about protecting workers and helping communities respond to mass layoffs. The WARN Act was supposed to give employees time to find a new job. Unfortunately, fair notice has become the exception not the rule.
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found the current WARN Act covers just 24 percent of all layoffs and employers provided advance notice in just one-third of those. The WARN Act covers layoffs of 50 or more workers in firms of 100 or more employees.
In May 2008, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee the WARN Act “has failed to live up to its promise.”
The shortcomings of WARN boil down to this: The act requires too few employers to give too little notice to too few workers, and it allows too many employers to flout the law with impunity.
The new bill would:
Require employers to give a 90-day notice;
Apply to employers of 75 or more workers; and
Cover layoffs of 25 or more employees.
It also would give the U.S. Department of Labor the authority to enforce the WARN Act and increase penalties for violation to double back pay. Says Miller:
Workers deserve more than just a pink slip when they lose their job because of our nation’s economic difficulties….Current protections for workers being laid off are both confusing and rarely enforced. While an early warning may not save their job, a meaningful early notice will help them prepare to find a new job or upgrade their skills for new employment.