Even with support from the Pope it looks like workers at an Alcoa plant could soon be out of jobs. During his Sunday business prayer Pope Benedict urged Alcoa and Fiat to save jobs by forgoing plans to shutter plants. Hundreds of Alcoa workers took to the streets of Rome on Tuesday to protest the aluminum company’s plan to shut down two smelters in the country.
The future of the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project looks bleak. Jesse Russell reports.
By Doug Cunningham
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says workers face increasing obstacles when they try to form unions and “we need to restore their freedom to do so.” In testimony before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee today, Solis looked back at the department’s actions in 2009 and forward to its 2010 agenda.
In reiterating the Obama administration’s support for the Employee Free Choice Act, Solis said:
I will work to ensure that workers’ rights will be protected. In order to rebuild the middle class, we need to level the playing field and restore fair play for all working people. The growing inequality in wages and benefits is partially due to the increasing obstacles workers face in forming unions and engaging in collective bargaining.
She also told the panel that the Labor Department will continue to “protect workers in the new economy…I am committed to enforcing all employment laws.”
particularly those related to payment of the minimum wage and overtime. Workers deserve this money and it will bring money to low-income households where most of it will be spent and help invigorate local communities.
Staffing levels at the Wage and Hour Division have increased, putting more investigators into the field who have “helped secure millions of dollars in back pay for thousands of workers.”
House Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) pointed to the increased emphasis on workers’ safety since Solis took the reins at the department.
For too long, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] failed to respond to real dangers and put American workers in needless peril. Recent enforcement actions by the new administration have been a breath of fresh air. Instead of looking the other way, this administration is holding reckless employers accountable.
Solis also outlined how the department used nearly $60 billion in economic stimulus funds to provide a lifeline to unemployed workers and training opportunities—especially in new economy green jobs—for jobless workers.
The finds not only boosted unemployment insurance (UI) benefits by $100 a month, “going a long way to paying for groceries or helping with rent,” but assisted states faced with severe budget shortfalls, “get UI benefits into the hands of their workers.”
Telling the committee the department is “looking to train the workers of the future [and] green jobs play an important role in our economic recovery,” Solis cited two examples where stimulus funds have been put to work.
In creating the criteria for many of the grants discussed above, we required applicants to include partners made up of a diverse set of stakeholders, including labor organizations, public or private employers, and the local workforce system. We also gave special consideration for partnerships that included community-based organizations.
For example, in Minnesota, Honeywell and two chambers of commerce have joined the United Steelworkers (USW) to train workers. Also in Florida, the Broward County Minority Builders Coalition partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 729 to extend green jobs training opportunities.
Time is rapidly running out for Congress to keep a vital lifeline available for jobless workers and their families. Both unemployment insurance (UI) for the long-term jobless and the COBRA extension to help unemployed workers maintain health care coverage expire Feb. 28.
With long-term unemployment continuing to worsen (and now at an all-time high, with one in six workers unemployed) and periods of unemployment lasting longer than ever, keeping the unemployment safety net is crucial for millions of working families.
Click here to tell your lawmakers it’s time to act.
In December, the U.S. House passed a jobs bill that included a long-term UI and Cobra extension, but the U.S. Senate failed to act and Congress was forced to pass a short-term extension of both programs.
The AFL-CIO’s five-point jobs program says a one-year extension is essential and the Obama administration supports a long-term extension. However, it is unclear what shape a Senate jobs bill will take. Republican leaders say they will oppose any jobs legislation on a scale large enough most economists say will do real good.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a group of 31 senators urged quick passage of an extension for both programs to provide “vital safety net coverage for America families.”
Recent employment numbers are an indication that we must immediately extend jobless benefits and health assistance for individuals and families squeezed in this tighter economy. Nearly 40 percent of the unemployed—more than 6.1 million people—have been out of work for six months or longer.
The Cobra subsidy covers 65 percent of the premium cost, but as the senators point out, the average monthly health care premium for families is $1,111, about 83.4 percent of the average unemployment check.
In some states, the average unemployment check is less than the cost of a monthly health care plan premium.
According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP):
The cost of not reauthorizing these important unemployment provisions will be substantial—in the form of increased foreclosures, less money flowing through communities, and reliance on other public benefits—and will slow down the economic recovery that will bring us jobs.
Take action now, click here tell lawmakers to extend UI beneits and Cobra for a year.
Joining a union would be good for workers in every state in the nation because union members receive better pay and benefits than nonunion workers, according to a new report.
“The Unions of the States,” released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), studied union membership rates, size of the union workforce and wage and benefit advantages for union workers in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Click here to read the report.
The report found union membership rates vary widely, from more than 25 percent of workers in New York and Hawaii to fewer than 5 percent in North Carolina and South Carolina. California has the most union members, with 2.6 million, and Wyoming the least, with just about 20,000.
But no matter what the size of the union workforce, the union difference is clear in every state. The report says that in a typical state, union members are likely to earn 15 percent more an hour, have a 19 percent likelihood of having employer-provided health insurance and are 24 percent more likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Based on the federal government’s monthly Current Population Survey, the report provides a snapshot of union members in each state by race, gender, public-sector or private-sector employment and more.
The report clearly makes the point that protecting workers’ right to join a union—the reason for the Employee Free Choice Act—is important and would benefit the country:
These findings demonstrate that, across the states, workers who are able to bargain collectively earn more and are more likely to have benefits associated with good jobs. Taken together these data strongly suggest that better protection of workers’ right to unionize would have a substantial positive impact on the pay and benefits workers in every state.
Workday Minnesota editor Barb Kucera reports on the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s job creation strategy unveiled Monday. For more on how unions and their allies on the state and local levels can mobilize for legislation and policies that create jobs and boost the economy for working families, click here.
Responding to the dramatic need to get Minnesotans back to work, the Minnesota AFL-CIO called on state lawmakers to enact a series of bold proposals to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
At a news conference Monday at the Capitol, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson urged elected officials to quickly pass a bonding bill, support private investment in construction jobs, enact a wage subsidy program and raise revenue as part of solving the state’s budget crisis.
We are asking today that the legislature quickly pass a bonding bill that is at least $1 billion. This will put people to work right away. In addition, we are supporting the construction coalition jobs bill that leverages and stimulates private investment in commercial, industrial, energy-efficient retrofit and residential projects across the state.
While congressional leaders are working on a federal wage subsidy program to help cover the cost of hiring new workers in small and medium-sized businesses, Knutson called for enacting a wage subsidy in Minnesota of up to $12 per hour. Wage subsidy programs, like the Minnesota Emergency Employment Development (MEED) program that was in effect in the 1980s, create jobs by paying a part of the wages of new hires.
To help raise revenue for the jobs program, the state federation is calling for a tax increase for those in the top income brackets. Working families are currently taxed at a 12.4 percent rate while those in the top tier pay 9 percent. Said Knutson:
We understand that this revenue proposal is only part of the solution. But most agree that the current state tax structure is unfair. This proposal moves the state towards tax fairness.