Tuesday was Equal Pay Day in the United States. The day fell as women still strive to reach pay equity with men. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics women who work full time still earn on average 77 cents to the dollar that men in similar situations earn. African American and Latina women have an even bigger hill to climb. African American women earn on average 67.9 percent and Latinas earn 58 percent of what men earn.
At 10:30 a.m. yesterday trash haulers in Washington’s King and Snohomish counties walked off the job. Jesse Russell has more.
By Doug Cunningham
The Louisiana oil rig explosion and fire has drawn new attention to safety in the oil sector of the U.S. economy. The United Steel Workers represents workers at oil refineries and says safer practices need to be adopted. USW Safety and Health specialist Kim Nibarger says in the refinery sector of the oil industry the push for profit and production often outweighs safety concerns.
America’s working families “need an economy that’s based on building—not bubbles,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the 3,000 union activists and leaders at the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department’s (BCTD’s) legislative conference this morning.
Trumka, speaking as the conference wrapped up its third and final day in Washington, D.C., said that while President Obama’s economic recovery program has created or saved 2 million jobs and put a dent in the nation’s hole in our labor market, “It’s not enough.”
As the economy tanked during the recession that started in 2007 under George W. Bush’s watch, construction work on power plants, office buildings and factories stopped and are still stalled. Trumka said the fingerprints of Wall Street’s greed are all over the economic crime scene.
For eight years or more, people on Wall Street who couldn’t or wouldn’t tell you what they did all day if their lives depended on it made their livings destroying other people’s lives and livelihoods. They gambled our money on phony financial instruments like subprime mortgages and derivatives and choked off the credit the construction industry depended on.
Now is the time, he said, “to go back to the basics, to making money by making things—real things—not financial fantasies.”
Cars, computers and construction, making things like roads, bridges, water infrastructure, schools, making new sources of clean energy and factories—so our brothers and sisters can make the steel, concrete and other products used in construction. We need an economy that’s based on building—not bubbles.
Trumka outlined the AFL-CIO’s five-point program to create jobs and put Americans back to work and also called for strong and tough financial reform legislation to rein in the actions by Wall Street and the Big Banks that trashed the economy.
Looking ahead to the fall elections, Trumka said, “It’s no secret most Americans are angry.” But that anger, he said, needs to be directed at Wall Street and the Big Banks and “their hired hands in Washington.” All of us working family voters need to
vent our rage at the wrecking crew who got us into this mess, not the cleanup crew who’s working overtime to get us out. And we’ll be damned if we let them turn our righteous anger into ugly outbursts of hatred against the most vulnerable among us.
Working Americans are smarter than that, we are wiser than that, and we are better than that. We don’t believe in burning bridges. We believe in building bridges—to our fellow citizens, our finest ideals, and our common future.
Yesterday, the delegates hit Capitol Hill where they lobbied their lawmakers on key construction trade legislative issues, including:
- Employers’ misclassifying workers as independent contractors to avoid wage and hour and other employment and tax laws;
- Energy policy, climate change and green jobs;
- Project Labor Agreements that ensure fair wages and benefits and on-time completion of local, state and federal construction projects;
- The 9/11 Heath and Compensation Act to provide medical monitoring and treatment for first responders and recovery workers at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center attacks.
Also yesterday, delegates gave a hero’s welcome to Robin De Haven, a Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 1778 member. In February, De Haven’s fast action helped save five people trapped in an Austin, Texas, office building after a man with a vendetta against the Internal Revenue Service, which had offices in the building, crashed his fuel-laden plane into the building.
De Haven is a graduate of the Helmets to Hardhats program that helps match vets and soon-to-be vets with apprenticeship and training programs offered by the 15 unions in the BCTD.
Click here for a video report on yesterday’s proceedings.
Three weeks after being laid off from his job, Rafael Arredondo, 31, is sitting in a conference room in a Southern California office park, hoping to hear good news about his own future and that of the union movement. He’s one of more than a dozen 20- and 30-something union members gathered around the table, sharing ideas about where organized labor stands right now and where it’s headed.
“People like us bring new ideas into the union,” says Arredondo, a third-year IBEW apprentice from San Diego Local 569. “We can respect the old traditions, but offer a different way to do things.”
Sitting in a corner chair, between two young union activists, Liz Shuler, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer and highest-ranking woman in the labor movement, listens intently to the conversation and scribbles notes on a pad. A few chairs away, Lorena Gonzalez, the youngest person ever elected secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, is also tuned in to an increasingly animated conversation.
“A lot of people are scared to even talk to me about the union”, says one member of the group who works at a nearby college campus. “We’ve got to change that.”
“We need to challenge the system!” says another boldly.
Elected in 2009, Shuler is charged with bringing more people under 35 into the union fold. She and her Washington, D.C.-based staff have quickly learned that the youngest members of the union movement have ideas. And they want to be heard.
“We’re here to listen,” she says, on the first day of a multi-city set of meetings to gather ideas from younger workers and labor activists. As she develops a plan for the union movement to reach out to a new generation, Shuler is drawing on the experiences of young union activists to find out the best ways to make an impact on their peers.
“Tapping into this generation means communicating with them in ways they can relate to,” she says. “We’re learning more about what they need in a union and how best to direct our message.”
Micah Mitrosky, a 31-year-old IBEW organizer from Local 569, believes there has never been a better time for unions to reach out to people her age and younger.
“It’s so hard for us to have the same lifestyle our parents had,” said Mitrosky, who knows several financially strapped 20-somethings still living at home with mom and dad.
“That’s why we need to find the next generation of union people,” she says. “Not just workers, but the union leaders who will continue the movement.”
Labor leaders are learning that reaching younger workers means communicating in new ways—using technology like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and texting. They also know that the younger generation has vastly different expectations about work and the work-life balance than their parents did.
“We’re hearing how much the idea of work is changing,” says Gonzalez, the San Diego labor leader. “Younger workers demand a flexible workplace and a workplace where they are respected.”
Shuler’s cross-country roundtables—nicknamed “futures forums”—will culminate this summer in a young workers’ summit in the nation’s capital. IBEW members from around the country are expected to take part.
“Young people tend to think it just isn’t cool to be involved in their union,” Gonzalez says. “We’re trying to change that here in California, and we need to do it at the national level.”
The meeting in San Diego ends with laughter as the young activists act out the old versus new ideologies of organizing.
On one side of a makeshift stage, a young union member playing the part of a local business manager tries to convince a young woman to join the union. He suggests she have a one-on-one with the shop steward and asks about her 401(k). The girl looks confused.
On the other side, a second “business manager” invites her to a happy hour or a street march and tells her “I’ll send you a text message.” The worker is more receptive.
It’s clear from the scene that young unionists have strong ideas about how labor should be reaching out to their peers. Now they are gaining hope that union leadership is listening.
This is a cross-post from the IBEW.
Bernard Pollack, who is taking a leave of absence from the AFL-CIO to travel through Africa, and Danielle Nierenberg send us a report from their journey through Africa. Read more at their blog, Border Jumpers.
Flights resumed across Europe yesterday after clouds of ash from an Icelandic volcano left travelers stranded for days.
And while we feel deep sympathy for all the stories of weddings being canceled, funerals missed and family reunions delayed, the volcano’s impact on workers in Africa means many are losing much-needed wages.
It may be hard to believe, but much of the fruits and vegetables sold in grocery stores in the United Kingdom are grown by African farmers. And the roses, orchids, carnations, irises and other flowers sold in Amsterdam and London are grown on huge flower plantations in Kenya and Ethiopia.
While we were in Naivasha, Kenya, last November with the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, we had the chance to visit a flower factory called the Sher Karuturi plant where nearly 1,000 workers produce up to 1 million roses a day, which are sold at auction in Holland and eventually make their way through the European Union and to the United States. Yet, with no planes landing in Europe, most of these roses—Bella Rose, Red Calypso, Sunny Sher, Wild Thing, Ria and Inca—are left to wilt at the factory and many workers are going home unpaid or have been laid off.
In addition, millions of pounds of food have been wasted—at dozens of vegetable processing plants in Kenya—mountains of broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and other vegetables rotted because they couldn’t be shipped to the United Kingdom. They also, unfortunately, weren’t sold at local markets or given to schools or to food aid agencies.
And while things are now getting back to normal at Europe’s airports, Africa’s economy will likely take longer to bounce back.
Hopefully, this week will serve as an important lesson about how the world’s workers are left vulnerable—especially those without access to union representation. As environmental problems, including the impact of climate change, political shocks and corporate greed, increase, it will be more important than ever to find ways to protect an increasingly global workforce.
A century ago, many immigrant coal miners worked long hours at low pay in jobs that threatened their lives and limbs.
George F. Baer didn’t care. As he said:
“They don’t suffer. Why, they can’t even speak English.”
Baer was the chief spokesman for the Anthracite coal trust in 1902, when Pennsylvania hard coal miners, immigrant and native-born went on strike. The miners sought a pay hike, shorter hours, safer working conditions and recognition of their union, the Mine Workers. The strike was settled after President Theodore Roosevelt intervened.
The coal trust was made up of a group of railroad and mining companies that controlled nearly all of the Anthracite mines. Baer was president of the Reading Railroad.
He rates only a few lines in most history books. Even so, Baer is worth remembering.
Because of employers like him—Massey Energy Co. President and CEO Don Blankenship comes to mind—unions still must “mourn the dead, fight for the living.” That’s the unofficial motto of Workers Memorial Day, which will again be observed April 28. (I’m with UMWA President Cecil Roberts. I want to see Blankenship cuffed, zipped in an orange jump suit and made to do the perp walk.)
Unions have marked every April 28 as Workers Memorial Day since 1989. The date was chosen because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became part of the U.S. Labor Department on April 28, 1971, and because of a similar April 28 commemoration in Canada, according to the AFL-CIO. Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, says:
When we observe Workers Memorial Day this year, we will have a special remembrance for the 29 West Virginia coal miners who died because Massey Energy put profit ahead of safety. Meanwhile, our prayers go out to their families.
Wiggins said his council’s hall is a workers’ memorial itself.
It is named for a union brother, Samuel D. Henderson, a Pipe Fitter, who died of injuries he suffered on the job.
Inside the hall, a small photo of Henderson hangs on a wall next to a big black and white metal sign that includes the Workers Memorial Day motto. The motto is based on a famous quote from union pioneer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, a UMWA organizer in the anthracite coal fields and elsewhere:
Workers Memorial Day
Mourn the Dead
Fight for the Living
“Sammy’s picture and the sign are important reminders for us every time we meet,” said Wiggins, a United Steelworkers member who is also on the state AFL-CIO Executive Board.
In Baer’s time, workplace safety laws were few, inadequate and mostly ignored by employers. As a result, railroads, mines and mills were slaughterhouses. Thousands of workers were killed, maimed or made seriously ill every year. One apologist for the likes of Baer—Blankenship would have loved him—said the country didn’t need worker safety and health laws because such laws only protected “those of the lowest development.”
Few occupations are more hazardous than mining. The anthracite miners of 1902 also had faith that with UMWA recognition, the mine owners would have to make their jobs safer. (Statistics show that UMWA mines are much safer than nonunion mines like Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine where the 29 miners lost their lives in a massive explosion April 5.)
Baer hated the UMWA as much as Blankenship does, declaring:
The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for—not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country….
Nobody fought harder for unions in the era of “Divine Right” Baer than the UMWA’s Mother Jones, who was also a Socialist and a co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World. ”Her picture is on the Kentucky state workers memorial stone, which sits on the lawn outside our hall,” Wiggins said.
Jones was dubbed the “Miners’ Angel.” But her words weren’t always angelic. As Wiggins explained:
She actually said, ”‘Mourn for the dead, fight like hell for the living.’ That’s what’s chiseled on our memorial.”