New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is heading to court in an attempt to negate a recent contract crafted through arbitration. The transit authority alleges that the panel failed to calculate the finances of the MTA properly and that the funds are not available to pay for the terms in the contract. The three-year contract will increase transit worker wages by 11 percent at the end of three years. The union sought the wage increase for workers so they would be in parity with increases offered to other city workers during previous years.
Here are two great op-eds on the continuing fight for the Employee Free Choice Act.
In North Carolina’s News & Observer, Arne Kalleberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, calls the Employee Free Choice Act an “effective tool” for workers to improve their own lives and communities.
The Employee Free Choice Act, Kalleberg says:
…would help to level the playing field by giving workers a real opportunity to decide whether or not they wish to be represented by a union. Studies by sociologists and economists have demonstrated conclusively that unions raise wages and benefits for working people and protect them from discrimination and unsafe workplaces.
It would provide some ballast to out-of-control business lobbying influence and it would help us to resume the long American march toward a more humane and democratic society. It protects America’s employees’ freedom to choose whether or not to form a union and provides them with the opportunity to improve their economic situation.
Writing in Montana’s Great Falls Tribune, Kimberly Freeman, acting executive director of American Rights at Work, says the Employee Free Choice Act will give workers the ability to bargain for a better life and balance the power of corporations:
This critical policy solution will make it easier for workers to form a union and bargain for fair pay and benefits, enact greater penalties against employers who violate the law, and prevent companies from using endless delays and stall tactics to deny workers a collective bargaining agreement. These policies are needed more than ever to level the playing field and create an economy that works for everyone again.
Robert J. Haynes, president, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, writes that the state’s working families need two voices in the Senate during the upcoming weeks of debate on critical issues like health care.
Like the labor heroes we remembered on Labor Day, Ted Kennedy didn’t believe that the American dream was only reserved for the powerful and privileged. While Massachusetts workers lost our biggest voice and best champion for the little guy, we should not have to go without two U.S. senators for months on end. Working families cannot wait that long for full representation; not ever, but certainly not in these times with such monumental challenges facing our nation.
Kennedy believed it was wrong for people to have to risk their lives unnecessarily at work, to be stripped of their pensions, denied health care, or impoverished by the recklessness of banks. He believed a father with an ill child shouldn’t have to choose between being with that child and keeping his job. Now his lion’s voice has fallen silent, too soon.
We can never replace him—but we should refuse to let his seat sit empty. Massachusetts cannot afford to wait until the special election on January 19, 2010, to have full representation. Regardless of why the law is flawed or how it got to be inadequate, we now know it needs to be fixed.
In the coming months, Congress will grapple with health care reform, job creation, energy independence, education funding, issues of war and peace, possible judicial appointments and much-needed labor law reform. Both Massachusetts’ Senate votes will be crucial to breaking congressional gridlock that has become all too common in our nation’s Capitol.
Legislation can be crafted that takes the politics out of the appointment, by ensuring that the temporary interim appointee does not get an unfair head start in a campaign. By constitutionally ensuring that the appointee will not be a candidate in a special election, we can prevent any governor from unfairly advantaging their choice for senator. We have faith that our Legislature can reform the law now and restore full representation to Massachusetts.
Senator Kennedy knew we couldn’t wait; that’s why he made the noble and thoughtful request that the law be fixed to allow for a temporary interim appointment to be our second senator. This is not a situation where we should do it for Teddy. Ted Kennedy wouldn’t want his seat filled as some kind of memorial. We should make this change because it is the right thing to do for us, and that is what he always wanted for Massachusetts. The Legislature constantly fixes flawed laws. They should do so in this instance as soon as possible.
Massachusetts has always spoken out for justice, from Concord farmers who fired the shot heard ‘round the world, to abolitionists who cried out against slavery, to textile workers who marched in the streets of Lawrence to demand fair wages and human dignity—bread and roses. The country’s eyes are on Massachusetts now, waiting to see if we’ll play at full strength in these important debates. We cannot sit by, half-silenced. This Labor Day the working people of Massachusetts want our voice and our full representation restored.
As we look across an economy that isn’t working for far too many workers, it’s obvious the wages, retirement security and freedom to bargain for a better life are eroding—and our economy has suffered as a result. How do we restore fairness and workers’ rights to our economy?
In a new report, “Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America’s Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them,” some of the country’s top scholars on workplace issues take a critical look at what’s gone wrong in the relationship between workers, their employers and the government—and what we can do to turn it around.
The report was coordinated by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Scott Martelle, the author, summarizes a larger study by NELP’s Annette Bernhardt, Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, Laura Dresser of the University of Wisconsin and Chris Tilly of the University of California-Los Angeles. These researchers examine the collapse of workplace standards and conclude we need to fundamentally re-examine the nature of work and design new policies to protect workers:
What do we mean by the gloves-off economy? Simply put, it is the decision by employers to evade or break the core laws and standards that govern working conditions in America. And we believe the practice has been spreading from classic sweatshop operations to core sectors of the economy, running the gamut from construction sites to industrial laundry plants to restaurants to home health care and domestic work.
Our goal is to provide advocates and policy makers a window onto one of the key trends in the American labor market, and a resource to help them fix an economic system that rewards employers who break the law and punishes those who try to play by the rules. This is a moment for potentially great change in the way our society operates. Workers, government, unions, and responsible employers all have a stake in finding ways to put the gloves of worker protections back on.
The authors point to a decline in both workplace norms and in the efforts of public institutions to protect workers. In the past decades, the radical deregulation of the workplace and the assault against workers’ freedom to form unions have taken a toll on the kind of treatment and benefits employees can expect on the job.
Rebuilding an economy in which workers have a level playing field begins with the Employee Free Choice Act, so that workers can exercise their freedom to form unions and bargain without management intimidation. That’s a first step that gives workers themselves the power to improve their own lives and working conditions. But as the authors note, we also need to focus on building and enforcing stronger laws—at the local, state and federal levels—for the minimum wage, overtime, worker classification, discrimination and workplace health and safety.
You can read the full report here.
While all young workers face a tougher economic reality in 2009 than they did in 1999, low-income workers face particularly tough economic challenges.
The new AFL-CIO and Working America report, “Young Workers a Lost Decade,” chronicles a future of economic doubts and a present of lower-paid jobs, fewer benefits and longer hours than under-35 workers faced a decade ago.
More than half of all young workers live on the low-income end of the wage scale, earning less than $30,000 a year. Three quarters of those workers say prices are rising faster than their incomes, and seven out of 10 say they do not have enough money saved to cover just two months of living expenses.
If they get sick, not only are young workers likely to lose a day’s wages if they stay home, they’ll pay for health care out of their own pockets. Less than half have paid sick leave—compared to 70 percent of workers who earn more than $30,000 a year—and 44 percent do not have health insurance.
Further education could offer a path out the low-income world for many young workers, but the rising cost of education, coupled with their low-wages, is moving that dream further out of reach. Some 43 percent of low-income workers say they have put off education or professional development because of the cost, and 54 percent say they are worried about being able to pay for further education.
Do you have a solution? How can we make the economy work better for young workers, especially young low-income workers? Post your comments.
The AFL-CIO’s 26th Constitutional Convention—for the first time ever—will be webcast live, via Ustream, beginning at 3 p.m. Sept. 13 and running through the closing gavel on Sept. 17. To check out these historic proceedings, stop by our convention site here.
There will be a lot to see on the Ustream webcast. Many of us on the AFL-CIO staff are leaving today by bus for Pittsburgh to set up and prepare for the convention. Not only will delegates elect new leaders for the federation, we will pay tribute to retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
In addition to live webstreaming, we plan to blog, post video clips and photos and update you via Facebook and Twitter. (Follow the AFL-CIO on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AFLCIO and Twitter at http://twitter.com/AFLCIO. We will use the hashtag #aflcio09 for our convention updates.)
Last fall, working people mobilized in record numbers to elect new leaders in Washington, and this year we will welcome President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
As part of the packed agenda, delegates will debate and decide on the union movement’s next steps and long-term strategies when they consider proposed resolutions that will guide the AFL-CIO for the next four years. Resolutions cover labor law reform, health care reform, the economy, political action, retirement security and much more.
Delegates also will take part in major discussions on ways to reach out to a new generation of union members and strategies and success stories to increase the diversity of the movement. All of us will look at ways to build a stronger grassroots movement through our state federations and central local councils. We will celebrate global union solidarity and hear about ways to help workers without union contracts.
We will demonstrate our support for green jobs in discussion and action: Not only will delegates consider a resolution on green jobs, the convention itself will take place in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the largest and one of the first all-green facilities.
Delegates also will have the opportunity to explore Pittsburgh’s rich labor heritage, with many key sites in the history of the union movement located in or near the city, and to experience all the other great attractions the city offers.
Remember: If you cannot come to Pittsburgh, join us online on our Ustream webcast.