Many of the green jobs of “the future” already exist and are performed by union members who make energy-efficient products and teach others how to conserve energy.
Take Operating Engineers Local 49, which represents workers in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Members of the local recently built a wind turbine farm in the small town of Chandler, Minn. Crane operators from the local union hoisted the turbines into place as other members dug trenches for the transmission lines and did the grading.
Glen Johnson, business manager for Local 49, tells the Operating Engineers (IUOE) magazine, International Operating Engineer:
We’re green. We’ve been green a long time. When our operators are building roads and bridges, key environmental factors must be met.
Some of the skills and training union members receive can easily be transferred to green jobs, says Gary Lindbald, Local 49’s training director:
Whether an operator is lifting a column for a wind turbine or raising a high-efficiency heating and cooling system to the roof of a green building, he needs to know how to properly and safely control the crane. That’s something we’ve been teaching for generations.
Boosted by more than $90 billion for green jobs and training in the Obama administration’s economic recovery package, green jobs are growing steadily and present a unique opportunity to help rebuild the middle class. To ensure that the green jobs are good jobs, unions are pushing public policy options and creating new programs to prepare workers for the green revolution.
The AFL-CIO Working for America Institute (WAI), which helps create high-road partnerships among unions, business and government, also is conducting conference calls and webinars for labor leaders on various grants. Through a series of announcements, the institute is keeping the union movement abreast of the opportunities to better educate the nation’s workforce and rebuild the middle class.
Here’s Jeff Rickert, the center’s director:
With green jobs emerging as a top public policy priority, we are all working hard to make sure that green jobs are good jobs that provide decent wages and benefits. That’s a central part of our work. We don’t want these jobs to become dead-end jobs with no chance for advancement.
Meanwhile, 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.
Forty-one percent of women earning between $40,000 to $60,000 a year spent more than 10 percent of income on out-of-pocket healthcare costs. That’s an increase of 20 percent between 2001 and 2007. Six in ten women with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 per year report being unable to pay medical bills or being contacted by a collections agency. Those numbers are according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund.
Forty one percent of women earning between $40,000 to $60,000 a year spent more than 10 percent of income on out-of-pocket healthcare costs. That’s an increase of 20 percent between 2001 and 2007. Six in ten women with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 per year report being unable to pay medical bills or being contacted by a collections agency. Those numbers are according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund.
Two Wal-Mart opposition groups are joining forces. The Service Employee International union backed Wal-Mart Watch and the United Food and Commercial Workers backed WakeUpWalMart will merge. They plan to continue operations under the Wake Up Wal-Mart moniker.
A plant has been spared in the battle between French workers and management. Earlier this month, laid off French workers seeking a compensation package equaling $42,000 had threatened to blow up a car plant. To show they meant business the workers began piling gas canisters up around the factory which makes vehicles for Peugot and Renault. On Friday the two sides came to an agreement and the workers withdrew the militant threat after the company offered to pay $17,000. Two hundred four of the 235 workers voted in favor of the new offer.
Lede: An important first step in anti-wage theft legislation has been introduced in Congress. Doug Cunningham has more.
By Doug Cunningham
California Congressman George Miller has introduced the Wage Theft Prevention Act to eliminate the 2-year time limit for getting wage theft cases resolved through the Department of Labor. The bill would give the Department of Labor all the time it needs to resolve any wage theft complaints. Ted Smukler is Public Policy Director for Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago. He says more comprehensive legislation is needed to combat massive wage theft in America, but this is a good first step.
Here are a few highlights from newspapers around the country that make the case for why we need the Employee Free Choice Act.
Writing in Politico, former Clinton administration adviser Paul Begala explains how our system for forming unions is broken and why Employee Free Choice is necessary to give workers a shot at joining the middle class. Contrasting the stories of real workers with that of Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, Begala says:
“For eight years under the GOP, economic policy gave CEOs such as Ken Lewis the gold mine, while giving hard-working, middle-class Americans…the shaft. President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress were elected to change that, and protecting employees from corporate abuses is part of the change we need. That’s what the Employee Free Choice Act will do.”
In the Bangor Daily News, two economics professors—University of Southern Maine’s Michael Hillard and Bowdoin College’s David Vail—point to the history behind the nation’s economic crisis and explain why it’s critical that Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act.
For Maine as for the U.S., there are economic as well as moral justifications for restoring workers’ rights. Unionization rates, excluding government and agriculture, have plummeted from a peak of 39 percent to just 7 percent. Unionization allowed previous generations of workers to share equitably in their productivity and to realize economic security. The current generation of working people has created enormous wealth but not shared in the prosperity. The higher unionization rates that follow from fair labor laws would go a long way to remedy this inequity.
In a letter to the North Little Rock Times, Arkansas state Rep. Richard Carroll adds his name to the list of elected officials who support the Employee Free Choice Act.
As a member of the state Legislature, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of poverty-level wages on my constituents and the community at large. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would ensure that workers have the livable wages guaranteed by a union contract. In addition, union workers are 52 percent more likely to have health care benefits and three times more likely to have pensions. When workers bargain, the benefits go to everyone in our economy, not just the CEOs at the top.
Author and radio commentator Jim Hightower paid a visit to Colorado this week where he met with members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 7 as part of an Employee Free Choice Act mobilization campaign.
Hightower said the freedom to form unions and bargain is crucial to a healthy and fair economy.
Unions are the escalator to the middle class. Unions are the key to America’s productivity. Unions are a real hope for real change—fairness, justice, opportunity.
Hightower told CWA members they need to get involved and get active if the Employee Free Choice Act is to become law:
Now, we’ve put the Employee Free Choice Act on the table…are we going to give working people a chance again? This is when you have got to stand up.
Check out video of Hightower’s speech here.
As we honor Medicare’s success—it has reduced senior poverty by two-thirds—it is also an opportunity for retirees to become more aware of what is at stake for them in health care reform.
The Alliance for Retired Americans, a progressive grassroots advocacy organization, held 30 events around the country to mark Medicare’s birthday and advance a pro-retiree agenda for this year’s health care debate.
What can the health care bill do to help current and future retirees? Here are a few ideas:
- Help Early Retirees. More than 5 million Americans ages 55-64 do not have health insurance. People in this age group should be able to buy in to Medicare so they can see a doctor more often, especially for preventive care.
- Close the Donut Hole. The “donut hole” coverage gap in Medicare Part D means that each year about one in four seniors will spend several months paying full price for their prescriptions while still having to pay their premiums.
- Make Long-Term Care Affordable. We must make sure the health care bill includes the CLASS Act by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). It would create an insurance program to help middle-class families with the cost of long-term care.
- Help Continue Retiree Benefits. If we eliminate the tax benefit for employers who provide insurance, retiree health care could become yet another broken promise. Many of us sacrificed wage increases over the years in exchange for these benefits.
- Hold the Insurance Companies Accountable. A “public plan” option would put pressure on the private insurance companies to keep their premiums and business practices in check. If they are truly doing the best they can, why should they be worried about a little healthy competition?
We are beginning to see misleading and divisive attempts to scare seniors. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) recently took to the House floor to declare that the House Democrats’ health bill “essentially said to America’s seniors: Drop dead.”
It’s time for Washington to move beyond these Karl Rove-style tactics of divide-and-conquer.
Not only do retirees have a lot at stake in the health care debate, but we also worry about our children and grandchildren in these difficult times. Working together, we can create a health care reform plan that helps Americans of all ages.