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Social Media: New Tools Aid in Organizing       They’re tweeting in Northern California about the Employee Free Choice Act, sharing about health care reform on Facebook in Montana and posting organizing messages on My Space for workers in York, Pa. Across the country, union members are using the new social media to mobilize workers and share information. Steve Selby, an Electrical Workers (IBEW) organizer in York, Pa., knows the value of social media. He urgently needed to reach 300 workers at a local Comcast office. Rather than standing outside the office and handing out a flier with different information each day, Selby taught himself how to set up a MySpace account. He handed out one flier directing workers to his MySpace page, where he shared information the workers needed to know. Social media can be a strong complement to traditional organizing, says Darren DeMarco, IBEW’s information technology director: I think you have to use every tool out there to organize. You have these tools out there where the user can very easily set up their own website, set up a Facebook page, reach out to friends and start a conversation with people they could not before. The AFL-CIO, along with more than a dozen affiliated unions, is reaching out to potential new members and educating current members through such social sites as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Unions with a Facebook page or Twitter page or both include, AFSCME, AFT, Air Line Pilots (ALPA), American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Electrical Workers (IBEW), Fire Fighters (IAFF), Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), Sheet Metal Workers (SMWIA),Transport Workers (TWU), UNITE HERE, United American Nurses (UAN) and United Steelworkers (USW). Union activists are finding that social media reaches more people faster and cheaper than many traditional forms of communication. For example, the AFL-CIO live-tweeted President Barack Obama’s address at the AFL-CIO Convention last week. (You can follow the AFL-CIO on Facebook here and Twitter here.) AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who has made reaching out to young workers a priority, recognizes the value of social media as a tool to reach the next generation to carry on the fight for workers’ rights. In his keynote at Netroots Nation last month, Trumka said: When I was growing up, and working in the coal mines, I certainly wasn’t tweeting about it! In just a few years you have grown into a new force in progressive politics and also in American journalism. We are seeing a revolution in communications and we face a big challenge to keep progressives at the head of the curve. Our successes, including this conference, give us hope that we will. Many of us in the labor movement have fretted over the death of the labor beat at newspapers across the country. But we are seeing today that your work in the blogosphere is the equivalent of “letting a thousand flowers bloom.” Netroots Nation is the annual gathering of progressive bloggers and hosts a site for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate.

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Economic Report: Health Insurance Costs For U.S. Workers To Increase Dramatically IN Next Year – 09/29/09 Economic Report: Another study of health care costs has projected the cost to workers rising substantially over the next year. According to a report from Hewitt Associates next year the average out-of-pocket expense for health care will be $4,023 – a jump of 10 percent from this year. Companies will also watch as their costs edge up by 6 percent. They’ll be paying on average $9,120 per employee. According to the study’s author within seven years health care costs could double.

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Argentine Police Attack Workers Occupying Kraft Plant – 09/29/09 Argentine police attacked workers occupying a Buenos Aires Kraft plant this weekend. Jesse Russell reports: Eleven workers were injured and more than 60 arrested as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at workers at a Kraft plant in Buenos Aires this weekend. The laid off workers had been occupying the plant and halted operations. A recent agreement between the Labor Ministry and Kraft promises to honor existing jobs, but didn’t address 150 workers who were let go in August. In addition to occupying the plant former employees blocked an access road to the plant on Friday.

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New York Healthcare Workers Rally In Albany To Protest Mandatory Flu Vaccination Law – 09/29/09 Health care workers in New York are holding a rally in Albany today to protest a state regulation that requires flu vaccination. New York is the only state in the union that has such a law and state employees must be immunized for both seasonal flu and H1N1 by November 30. Workers are concerned that the H1N1 vaccine has not been adequately tested. The Center for Disease Control has stated that the new vaccine is safe.

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United Farm Workers Seek Support With Online Petition In Giumarra Campaign – 09/29/09 By Doug Cunningham The United Farm Workers are gathering online petition signatures calling on the Giumarra company to respect the rights of workers picking its grapes. Ten percent of the grapes sold in America are from Giumarra. The UFW says the company is anti-union and in 100 degree heat forced workers to race for their jobs by telling them the worker with the fewest number of boxes picked would be suspended. If you support the farm workers you can go to ufwaction.org to sign the online petition.

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Government Already Runs Health Care for Millions of Americans Some people say they don’t want health care reform because they don’t want the government involved. Or—shiver me timbers and pass the Socialist smelling salts—they don’t want a “government-run health care system.” Here’s news for them: The private health care system in the United States is so bad that more people already are getting their health care from the government because they can’t get it in the private sector. This from that most Communist of daily newspapers, the Wall Street Journal: More people are getting their health insurance from the government as the number of individuals with coverage from an employer declines… The number of people in the U.S. without health insurance rose by about 700,000 between 2007 and 2008 to 46.3 million. The proportion of uninsured was essentially unchanged at 15.4 percent. An additional 4.4 million people in the U.S. were insured by the government as of 2008, for a total of 87.4 million, or 29 percent of the population, up from 27.8 percent in 2007. At the same time, 1.1 million fewer people had coverage from an employer in 2008, leaving 176.3 million people with such coverage. Under the nation’s current health care system, we pay more for worse health care than anyone else in any industrialized nation. Or, as writer Brad Reed succinctly sums it up: Americans pay more to die earlier.  In 2007, the United States spent an average of $7,290 per person on health care—16 percent of gross domestic product [GDP]. By contrast, our Canadian neighbors spent an average of $3,895 per person, or 10 percent of GDP. The British spent $2,992 per person, or 8.4 percent of GDP. And the Japanese, who have some of the longest life expectancies in the world, spend $2,581 per person, or 8 percent of GDP. Just ask some of the 2,000 people in Harris County, Texas, who on Saturday packed into what is being described as the largest free clinic ever held in the United States. This from the local ABC news outlet in Houston: Many of the people we talked to can’t afford health insurance, especially in the rough economy. Some say it shows the need for health care reform. All patients who saw a doctor Saturday will get information about a free clinic near their home where they can go for follow-up care. There are at least eight here in the Houston area, and these days they are busier than ever. In 2008, the National Association of Free Clinics says its doctors saw 4 million patients. This year, it’s expecting to see twice that number because of the bad economy. And guess who’s funding those free clinics? The government. In yet another article from the Wall Street Journal: The centers are on track to handle more than 20 million patients this year, up by more than 2 million from last year and twice the figure of a decade ago, according to surveys by the National Association of Community Health Centers. The no-frills centers receive block federal grants for much of their funds and pay medical staff a fixed salary, so they have little incentive to jack up costs with unnecessary care. So, let’s see. The private health insurance industry has failed millions of Americans. A health care reform plan that includes a public option would give us the choice of whether to select the private sector or the public sector. The concern over health care reform clearly can’t be about government involvement—the government already is massively involved in providing health care. That means the only ones who really fear government involvement in health care are the special interests of profiteering corporate HMOs and the big health care insurance corporations. What’s at stake for them is their massive profiteering by means of their obstructing any real competition. It’s clear from recent scientific polls in September 2009 that more than 65 percent of Americans, a huge supermajority, are expressly and strongly in support of Sen. Rockefeller’s plan for quality choice option right that would add genuine competition to the health care system. What’s at stake for consumers is our health—and lives.

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Global Unions: G-20 Made Progress, But Not Enough     Members of the United Steelworkers marched in Pittsburgh to support good jobs around the world.     The G-20 Summit, which ended recently in Pittsburgh, made progress in some areas, but failed to completely address the overwhelming need to create new jobs now, according to leaders of the global union movement. Trade unionists around the world will continue to pressure their governments to stimulate the global economy to put people back to work. Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said that while he is glad the G-20 agreed to put jobs at the heart of their economic recovery agenda, big questions remain in some key areas. With the global jobs crisis still worsening, a meeting of G-20 labor ministers to take place in early 2010 will be a key focus for the global trade union movement in the coming months. The G-20 labor ministers’ meeting must push the maintenance and creation of decent jobs even higher up the agenda, with implementation of the ILO [International labor Organization] Jobs Pact as a central objective.  The international trade union movement must be given a seat at the table in this meeting, and we will be carrying forward our intensive efforts with governments, the ILO and other global institutions to make sure it and the June G-20 Summit in Canada deliver the results that working people demand. The ILO Global Jobs Pact proposes a range of crisis-response measures that countries can adapt to their specific needs and situations. The pact urges measures to keep persons employed, to speed up job creation and jobs recovery combined with social protection systems, in particular for the most vulnerable workers During the peaceful People’s March through downtown Pittsburgh on Sept. 25, thousands of marchers emphasized the need for jobs. Hundreds of United Steelworkers (USW) members took part, including USW Education Director Lisa Jordan, who addressed the crowd: The United Steelworkers are here. We want to represent all the workers across the world who don’t have the voices that we have. We believe the most democratic thing we can do is speak out at the G-20. There should be workers’ voices. There should be environmentalists’ voices. There should be the voices of all of the people, not just the CEOs and the wealthy. On the eve of the summit, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the world cannot afford to continue with a globalization that works only for the very richest and leaves workers and the communities they live in behind. Unions issued a G-20 declaration that calls for global action for good jobs. Trumka said: Together, the labor movement and the environmental movement are a fighting force for change. This is our time—time to let the powers gathered here this week know exactly what we want, and exactly what  we won’t stand for. We want a clean-energy economy that creates good jobs, and we want a safe and healthy planet. We need a new economic order that demands respect for both workers and the planet….Globalization that benefits only the rich, the assault on workers and the planet and the devastation it breeds has got to go. While it is encouraging that the G-20 agreed to work on an international framework for a transactions tax to help make sure the financial sector pays a fairer share toward economic recovery, the reality is that world leaders only scratched the surface of “the urgently needed reforms to the international financial institutions’ policies and structures,” said John Evans, general secretary of the OECD Trade Union Advisory Committee. The 50-strong international trade union delegation in Pittsburgh met the heads of government of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom in the 24 hours leading up to the G-20 Summit, and the French trade unions held a separate meeting with President Sarkozy the week before the Pittsburgh gathering. The meetings followed intense pressure at the national level in recent weeks, carrying on from the unions’ work at the Washington and London G-20 summits.

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Workers Need Employee Free Choice to Get Ahead       Here are two great recent pieces on the need for the Employee Free Choice Act, proposed federal legislation to give workers the tools they need to build a better life for themselves and a strong economy for everyone. Writing at the Drum Major Institute, Amy Traub says that just investing in training and education isn’t enough to help workers earn their way out of the economic slump and into the middle class. They need the freedom to form a union: Education alone won’t solve the economic problems underlying the middle-class squeeze. If it were, college graduates would be doing better. And while educated workers are more likely than those without a degree to enjoy a middle-class standard of living, wages for most college graduates have grown sluggishly in recent years and their access to employer-provided health care and pensions has dropped. And then there are the tens of millions of Americans who work at jobs that don’t require a college degree. The solution, Traub says, is to make sure all workers have the ability to bargain for a fair share and get the leverage they need to ensure they have good pay, good benefits, safe conditions and respect on the job: The Employee Free Choice Act is a game-changer, directly attacking the systemic problem of employees’ lack of power in the labor market. The impact would boost low-wage service employees struggling to gain a middle-class standard of living as well as college-educated professionals trying to hold onto it…empowering people to join unions directly redistributes economic power back to working people, enabling Americans to win gains for themselves in the workplace. Writing in the Muncie Star Press, Indiana State AFL-CIO President Ken Zeller calls the Employee Free Choice Act a commonsense update of the nation’s labor laws and a way to make sure workers can get a fair first contract: Today, many companies refuse to bargain with the union their employees elected to represent them in negotiations because there is no penalty for doing so. The fact is that no CEO works without a contract, so why should workers? As long as workers are denied a seat at the bargaining table, corporate greed will continue to run roughshod over our economy. The Employee Free Choice Act will give workers the power to bring a measure of democracy back to the workplace.

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