The number of newly laid off workers dropped slightly last week. Initial jobless claims fell by 6,000 over the previous week. However, according to economists the numbers still aren’t at a point that would indicate consistent job creation. Claims were at 462,000 and they would need to fall below 425,000 to signal sustained growth.
As low wage workers continue to struggle in today’s economy a new book exposes a small group of managers that are playing the role of modern day “Robin Hoods.” Jesse Russell reports:
While researching a book about the difficulties of low-income workers, Brandeis University sociologist Lisa Dodson stumbled into the world that exists between low-income and middle class workers. Dodson found managers who were concerned about the wages being paid to workers they oversaw, but felt there was little they could do. However, among this group she found a number of modern day “Robin Hoods.”
By Doug Cunningham
[Amy Carroll]: “It’s a really exciting piece of legislation in New York state that’s going to make New York state that’s really going to make New York the leader in the fight to end wage theft.”
Make The Road New York Legal Director Amy Carroll, on a bill introduced in the New York state legislature this week to combat wage theft. Wage theft by employers is a growing problem nationally and Carroll says it’s a big problem in New York, where the Coalition to Prevent Wage Theft & Protect Responsible Businesses will conduct a vigorous campaign against wage theft.
Recent polls show a majority of Americans want Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform now. And for good reason: There’s more news out this week about the enormous increases in health insurance premiums, according to a new report.
A survey from Economist/YouGov released this week shows 53 percent of respondents support changes proposed by the Obama administration. A second poll by Ipsos/McClutchey shows that 53 percent of Americans either support the current reform option or hope for an even stronger reform package. More than a third of those who oppose current reform proposals actually favor stronger reforms.
Meanwhile, a study by Health Care for America Now (HCAN) shows jaw-dropping insurance premium hikes—up 97 percent for families and 90 percent for individuals between 2000 and 2008. Premiums rose two times faster than medical costs and more than three times faster than wages. Companies like WellPoint are raising premiums by as much as 39 percent in California and by double digits in at least 11 states.
An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that people who bought insurance on their own between 2004 and 2007 on average paid more of their health expenses themselves—52 percent—than insurance companies. Yet those who had employer-sponsored coverage only paid 30 percent out of pocket.
The industry front group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), heard plenty this week as thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., outside AHIP’s meeting to stage a citizens’ arrest for its crime in blocking health care reform.
Says Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman:
The recent premium increases in the individual market probably have done more to illustrate the cost of doing nothing in health reform in simple, graphic terms people can understand than anything so far in the health reform debate.
Here are a few items worth noting today.
* Kudos to union members in West Virginia who successfully pushed the state’s legislature to adopt a resolution creating Labor History week following Labor Day. Just last month, Wisconsin union activists succeeded in their years-long effort to get the state legislature to make labor history part of the state’s public education standards.
* From the Campaign for America’s Future: Huffington Post’s Art Delaney highlights expiring stimulus program that could cost 100,00 jobs: “…more than 100,000 people…will lose their jobs by September unless Congress extends a stimulus bill provision that gives states funding to create jobs programs for low-income parents and young adults….”
* In the “here’s how hard up we are for good news about jobs” category: The ratio of job seekers per job opening dropped from six to one in December to 5.4 in January. How sad is it that this is good news?
Bernard Pollack, who is taking a leave of absence from the AFL-CIO to travel through Africa, and Danielle Nierenberg describe their visit with Wellington Chibebe, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
In Harare, on the way to our meeting with Wellington Chibebe, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), even our driver was excited for us.
He is a good, good man. I’ve only seen him on TV, but he fights very hard for the people and to promote democracy!
Since the early 1990s, ZCTU grew increasingly opposed to the government of Robert Mugabe and was the main force behind the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In fact, MDC’s leader and the current prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, held the same position with the ZCTU before Chibebe.
Chibebe is one of the most vocal—and effective—voices in civil society promoting respect for human rights and democracy. Despite being brutally beaten, tortured and having his life threatened over the last two decades, Chibebe remains more positive than ever about the direction of his country. It was largely due to Zimbabwe’s labor movement that in the 2008 presidential election Tsvangirai defeated Mugagbe. Yet, despite MDC’s victory, Mugabe refuses to step down and the nation has a “power sharing” agreement.
When we met with Chibebe, he was cautiously optimistic about the power-sharing agreement and the future of democracy in Zimbabwe.
Our role as the labor movement is to fight for democracy and good governance, respect for people’s basic rights and also social and economic rights.
He says that while the MDC plays a critical role in promoting democracy, the mission of the union movement will be to hold all political parties accountable to these principles. “We just can’t afford to repeat the same mistake by treating any government or political party as angels from heaven,” he says. While he described the beginning of the power-sharing agreement as “terrible,” Chibebe felt strongly that “things are now getting better, we are able to make some positive changes happen.”
Chibebe was born 300 miles south of Harare. His upbringing herding goats and farming built both a sense of responsibility and social consciousness, he says.
Rural kids grow up different from urban ones, you start fighting for your rights at a very early age. If you aren’t aggressive, you’ll get abused.
He also described how in rural life he had no access to books or libraries, so everyone listened to their elders, learning about the importance of struggle and hearing passionate tales of resistance against the ruling government. Not even a teen when his mother passed away, Chibebe became passionately involved in political struggle for social and economic justice that has lasted his whole life.
Being at the helm of the Zimbabwe labor movement at this moment is no easy task. The country faces unemployment rates of more than 90 percent. The media is controlled by the government. Union leaders are routinely harassed and imprisoned. And the Mugabe government instituted draconian laws to thwart unions, such as arresting any meeting of more than four people. Yet the affiliates of the ZCTU, representing more than 30 unions and every sector of the economy, have remained united. Says Chibebe:
While it is very difficult at times with unemployment so high to convince people to be in unions, we are still able to recruit and grow.
Chibebe works tirelessly to bring attention to Zimbabwe’s economic and human rights realities and to pressure the government to reform its ways. As workers struggle to survive inflation and low-paying informal employment, Chibebe has expanded the work of the ZCTU to represent all workers in both formal and informal employment. ZCTU fights for economic and social justice not just for his members, but for the fundamental rights of all of Zimbabwe’s workers.
In 2002, Chibebe and the ZCTU had the vision of helping informal sector workers—everyone from street vendors to musicians and artisans—form unions. The desire for social and economic change spread like wild fire when the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Associations (ZCIEA) started in 2002. Presently with more than 1.5 million paying members (out of 3.5 million members), the informal workers now have access to all the resources of the ZCTU such as their lobbyists, their research arm, and the strength and power of their affiliate unions.
Chibebe, and everyone we met with at ZCTU, speaks with great pride about the support they’ve been given by the American labor movement through the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, which maintains an office in the country. “Because of the Solidarity Center and the American worker, we’ve had incredible moral and material support,” Chibebe said. Some of the examples he cites are the role the Solidarity Center plays in supporting their research institute, expanding distribution of their newspaper, The Worker, their ability to fund a lobbyist, create a paralegal program, training activists and leaders and getting support from international governments and politicians through organizational delegations such as the visit from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).
This is a cross-post from Border Jumpers.
The vice president for one of the nation’s most anti-union, anti-worker organizations showed what we knew all along: Those fighting workers and their unions oppose the democratic process.
During a hearing yesterday on a House bill to expand bargaining rights for the police and firefighters, Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) exposed the myths and lies spun by the Big Brother-named National Right to Work Committee.
Doug Stafford, the group’s vice president, attempted to portray the bill as forcing “monopoly bargaining on every police and firefighter.”
Hare, a former president of and steward for his union, would have none of it.
The bill provides unions only will be established in places where a majority of officers and firefighters choose to form one, is that correct?
I believe that’s true, however….
Can you point to anywhere in this bill that would force this union into existence against the wishes of majority?
Against the majority, no, but what about the other 49 percent?
All of us are elected here by majority. I would assume, that wouldn’t be the majority rule? I mean if the majority of these folks want [a union], you’d find a problem with that?
The union movement and our allies are taking our fight for good jobs now to the biggest Wall Street banks whose reckless greed has gone a long way to wreck the U.S. economy and kill American jobs.
From March 15-26, working people will hold rallies and demonstrations at branches of the Big Six Wall Street banks—Bank of America, Chase, Citigroup, Wachovia-Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—across the country. They will tell the banks “We Are Not Your ATMs” and “Make Wall Street Pay for Creating New Jobs.”
You also can tell Wall Street executives to pay to create good jobs by sending a letter urging them to do the right thing. Just click here.
The AFL-CIO Good Jobs Now site has all the tools you’ll need to let Wall Street know we mean business. There’s a Wall Street fact sheet, along with an explanation of our stand on making Wall Street pay to create good jobs, arguments for extending unemployment insurance benefits, creating good, green jobs with benefits and other issues.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said working Americans have three demands of the banks:
Stop refusing to pay your fair share to restore the jobs you destroyed, stop fighting financial reform and start lending to your communities, small businesses and others starved for credit.
While millions of Americans continue to lose their homes, their jobs and their retirement saving, it’s been business as usual for Wall Street doling out record pay and bonuses to their CEOs.
While working families lost jobs, homes and hope, Wall Street took $700 billion in taxpayer bailouts and went right back to business as usual—choking off credit, handing out about $145 billion in 2009 pay and bonuses to the executives who tanked our economy and hiring an army of lobbyists to fight financial reform.
The nation is more than 11 million jobs in the hole. We need good jobs now—and it’s time Wall Street helps pay to create them.
The AFL-CIO supports four proposals for banks to pay a fair share to restore the economy: fees on Wall Street banks to pay back the cost of the bank bailout; a special levy on Wall Street bonuses, as proposed in the United Kingdom; a tax on the income of hedge fund and private equity managers, the wealthiest people in the country, at ordinary income rates, by closing the carried interest loophole and a financial speculation.
In addition to these efforts, Working America, the 3 million-member community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is launching a campaign called “I am not your ATM.” People across the country will be submitting photos of themselves in front of ATMs, asking “Where’s my bailout?” and delivering the message to Wall Street: ”I am not your ATM.” To see the photos already submitted, click here.