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‘They Have Forgotten the Lessons of Rana Plaza’

‘They Have Forgotten the Lessons of Rana Plaza’
Rana Plaza
Solidarity Center

Following the Rana Plaza collapse in which 1,134 garment workers were killed and thousands more injured in Bangladesh, the horror of the incident spurred international action and resulted in significant safety improvements in many of the country’s 3,000 garment factories.

But five years after the April 24, 2013, disaster, Bangladesh garment worker-organizers say employers often are not following through to ensure worksites remain safe, and the government is doing little to ensure garment workers have the freedom to form unions to achieve safe working conditions. Since the Tazreen Factory fire that killed 112 garment workers in 2012, some 1,303 garment workers have been killed and 3,875 injured in fire-related incidents, according to Solidarity Center data.

“Pressure from the buyers and international organizations forced many changes," said Tomiza Sultana, a garment worker-organizer with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF), among them less interference by police and factory management.

“We organized trade unions, recorded complaints and trained many workers. But five years after the tragedy, the police and local leaders are supporting the factory owners and harassing us and anyone who wishes to come to us. They have forgotten the lessons of the disaster,” she said.

A Disaster that ‘Cannot Be Described in Words’

“I can vividly recall that day. I can still see the faces of families who were looking for the bodies of their loved ones by only holding their photo ID,” said BIGUF President Nomita Nath. “This disaster cannot be described in words.” The multistory Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories outside Dhaka, pancaked from structural defects that had been identified the day before, prompting building engineers to urge the building be closed. Garment workers who survived the collapse say factory managers threatened their jobs if they did not return to work.

Ziasmin Sultana, a garment worker who survived the collapse, recalls managers telling workers on the morning of April 24 the building was safe, even though “the previous day we had seen cracks [in the building] form right in front of our eyes.” Shortly after starting work, the electricity went out and the building began to violently shake.

After packing into a crowded stairwell to escape, Ziasmin said she found herself falling: “Everything happened in an instant, and it was dark everywhere. When I came to my senses, I realized that three of us have survived and everyone else around us was dead.”

“The world saw how much our lives meant to the owners of these factories,” Nath said. “They did not care about our lives. They only cared about meeting production targets.”

In the wake of Rana Plaza, which occurred months after a deadly factory fire at Tazreen Fashions killed 112 mostly female garment workers, global outrage spurred several international efforts to prevent deaths and injuries due to fire or structural failures. Safety measures were instituted at more than 1,600 factories.

Hundreds of brands and companies signed the five-year, binding Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety, which mandated that brands and the companies they source from fix building and fire hazards and include workers in the process. Many of the signatories recently have signed on to the renewed three-year agreement that takes effect in May. Extending the accord guarantees that hundreds of additional factories will be inspected and renovated.

Workers Still Struggle to Achieve Safe Workplaces

In a recent series of Solidarity Center interviews, garment worker-organizers from several national unions applaud the significant safety improvements but warn that employers are backsliding. And workers seeking to improve safety in their factories often face employer intimidation, threats, physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to union registration.

“The accord contributed to ensuring the safety of the factories, but there is a lot of other work that needs to be done,” said Khadiza Akhter, vice president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF). She and others interviewed said factories are not regularly inspected, employers do not ensure fire extinguishers and other safety equipment are properly maintained, and safety committees sometimes only exist on paper.

“We are now working in this area for maintaining the standard of fire safety. This is a big task in the coming future,” Akhter said.

The Solidarity Center, which, over the past two decades in Bangladesh, jump-started the process to end child labor in garment factories and served as a catalyst in the resurgence of workers forming unions, in recent years has trained more than 6,000 union leaders and workers in fire safety. Factory-floor–level workers learn to monitor for hazardous working conditions and are empowered to demand that safety violations be corrected. Many workers, in turn, share their knowledge with their co-workers.

Bangladesh at a Crossroads

Accounting for 81% of the country’s total export earnings, Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry is the country’s biggest export earner. Yet wages are the lowest among major garment-manufacturing nations, while the cost of living in Dhaka is equivalent to that of Luxembourg and Montreal.

“The workers can barely survive with such low wages, as their house rents and even food prices have risen,” said Momotaz Begum, who has worked as a garment worker organizer with the Awaj Foundation since 2008.

Without a union, garment workers often are harassed or fired when they ask their employer to fix workplace hazards or seek living wages. Worker advocates say Bangladesh is at a crossroads—and they hope the government and employers choose a future in which Bangladesh workers are partners in the country’s economic success and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

But even in the face of severe employer harassment and government indifference, worker-organizers like Tomiza, Nath, Akhter and Begum, all of whom began working in garment factories as children or young teens, are helping workers join together and insist on their rights at work. Today, 445 factories with more than 216,000 workers have unions to represent their interests and protect their rights.

“I believe that the workers must be aware of their rights and they must be united to achieve them,” said Shamima Akhter, an organizer with the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers’ Federation. “We train them to let them know what they deserve, and we empower them so that they can claim their rights from the factory owners.”

In Bangladesh, the Solidarity Center implements the Workers Empowerment Program—Components 1 and 2—which provides training and rights education to garment workers and organizers with the support of USAID.

Iztiak, an intern in the Solidarity Center Bangladesh office, conducted the interviews in Dhaka. This post originally appeared at the Solidarity Center.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 04/24/2018 - 16:57
Posted: April 24, 2018, 8:57 pm

Left with the Bill

Left with the Bill

While President Donald Trump continues to tout his massive tax giveaway to corporations, working people aren’t buying it. Gallup found that a majority of Americans disapprove of the law, and it’s easy to understand why: We know we’re being left with a bill for $1.5 trillion.

The Gallup poll is the most recent in a string of surveys finding that Americans are rejecting the new tax law. Even the law’s own backers are starting to run away from their handiwork.

While corporations are pocketing billions in tax cuts, most working people aren’t seeing a cent. In fact, 82% of Americans say they haven’t seen any difference in their taxes—or that they’ve even gone up.

A report this week from the Joint Committee on Taxation found that one provision alone funnels $17.4 billion to people making at least $1 million per year.

What’s more, despite promises that corporate tax cuts would lead to higher wages and more bonuses, working people are being left empty-handed.

In fact, less than 0.0015% of U.S. businesses have followed through and shared anything with their employees.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 04/24/2018 - 15:56
Posted: April 24, 2018, 7:56 pm

New Jersey: Labor Makes History with Signing of Equal Pay Bill

New Jersey: Labor Makes History with Signing of Equal Pay Bill
New Jersey equal pay bill signing
New Jersey AFL-CIO

Today, a historic milestone was reached in the fight for women’s equality and universal workplace justice as Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act into law. This legislative effort, which was spearheaded by organized labor in New Jersey, represents years of hard work, testimony, meetings, campaigning, outreach and coordination with stakeholders all around the state.

The New Jersey State AFL-CIO was proud to work hand in hand with the prime sponsors of this bill, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D), and recognizes their tireless work that enabled this historic victory. We further thank state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) for making this issue a top priority and ensuring a prompt vote on this pressing matter that has been allowed to persist for far too long.

“No organization has been on the frontlines longer or done more to address the gender wage gap than organized labor,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan. “A union contract has long guaranteed equal pay for equal work to women and all demographic groups. It is thanks to this model, along with labor’s commitment to pay equity as a universal right, that we celebrate this historic moment for all New Jersey working families today.”

“With the strongest equal pay law in the nation, our labor movement and our state can stand proud in recognition of the progress we have achieved,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech. “This is a fight for which organized labor will continue to bear the torch until all working people around the country are ensured equal pay for equal work.”

Once again, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO recognizes the enormous efforts of our affiliates, community allies and elected officials, along with Gov. Murphy and his administration, for the extraordinary teamwork that made this victory possible. We know that the benefits of this law to women, families, businesses and working people across all demographic groups signal a new direction for our state and a future that represents our shared values of progress, economic fairness and workplace justice.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 04/24/2018 - 12:27
Posted: April 24, 2018, 4:27 pm

DC LaborFest: We're in the Same Boat

DC LaborFest: We're in the Same Boat
LaborFest
DC LaborFest

The fifth annual DC LaborFest—anchored by the 18th DC Labor FilmFest runs May 1-31 in Washington, D.C. Check out the complete festival schedule, including event descriptions, film trailers and links to RSVP or buy tickets. The essay below, by Working America’s Karen Nussbaum, is featured in the LaborFest’s 2018 program guide. 

My favorite moment this awards season was when Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton came out on stage together at the Emmys. The stars of “9 to 5” conversationally used the most famous words in the 1980 smash hit—“sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”—and got a prolonged standing ovation. “How cool,” I thought, “to be associated with an iconic movie.”

The movie about turning the tables on a boorish boss was inspired by 9to5, the national organization of women office workers I helped organize in 1973. And it was a hit because it reflected the hidden truths of an invisible workforce, 20 million women office workers. Fonda and the writers spent hours talking with our members. The movie changed the national debate about women and work because there was an organized national movement ready to turn the popular farce into action.

“9 to 5” may not be “Battleship Potemkin” or another of Sergei Eisenstein’s great works, “Strike,” which is one of the many exciting films featured in this year’s DC Labor FilmFest. The festival also celebrates the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, swinging from “Swing Shift,” another film about working women with a great cast to “The Young Karl Marx,” which may have you tearing up at the dramatic reading of "The Communist Manifesto" at the end. (OK, I did.) You’ll have the opportunity to see a score of movies that touch on many facets of working people’s fights over the past century.

But “9 to 5” (shown at the DC Labor FilmFest in 2005, when Jane Fonda was presented with the festival’s Labor Arts Award) has particular resonance, and it’s not just #MeToo.  

9to5, the organization, captured a moment when working-class and middle-class women found themselves co-workers in offices across the nation, and their common cause across class and race was explosive. The surge of women into the workforce in the 1970s hit the wall of few job opportunities for women. Nearly 25% of women worked as clericals. The next biggest occupation, nurses, trailed at 9%, followed by teachers and cashiers at only 5% each.

And that’s how it felt. If you were a college graduate, you might become a nurse or a teacher, but you were more likely to get an office job alongside of high school graduates. As organizers at 9to5, we knew how important this was. So we fostered common cause among the lifelong insurance workers who trained men to be their own supervisors and the publishing house employees who weren’t allowed anywhere near a book.

By the mid-1980s, employers caved. In the face of organizing, lawsuits and popular opinion (thanks, at least in part, to the “9 to 5” movie) they opened professional and managerial jobs to college-educated women—women like their daughters. The women’s workforce settled into a class structure that looked like that of men. Inequities still abound—women still earn only 80% of what men earn, and the pay gap is nearly twice as great for Latina and African American women. And as we know from #MeToo, sexual harassment is still pervasive.

Changes in jobs and working conditions are creating common cause across class and race again today. Since the 1970s, employers have put a lid on wages and cut way back on benefits. When I started working I earned minimum wage, but I had five days of vacation and five paid sick days—and that was common. Today, only about half of private-sector employees have paid sick or leave time. Employers have abandoned this responsibility to such a degree that voters are turning to city and state legislation to require paid leave. More than 60% of workers had pensions in the 1970s—today only 23% have a pension and the benefits are only half as valuable. And we know health care remains unaffordable for too many.

Working America sees it when we talk to people at the doors. "I used to think of myself as middle class, but I guess you'd have to say I'm working class," is a common comment. "I have a middle-class job, but I can't afford a middle-class house or car," one man told me. "I'll never be able to afford to retire," older members worry. I may be drawing more from E.P. Thompson than the young Karl Marx, but it looks to me like economic conditions are changing class consciousness.

So, as Dolly sings in the song, “You're in the same boat with a lotta your friends,” and the next big blockbuster will reflect a resurgent workers’ movement that builds common cause across class and race on economic issues. In the meantime, have fun at the movies!

Karen Nussbaum is a co-founder of 9to5, and a board member of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 04/24/2018 - 12:22
Posted: April 24, 2018, 4:22 pm

Big Week for Workers as More Than 10,000 Working People Join Together in Union in One Week

Big Week for Workers as More Than 10,000 Working People Join Together in Union in One Week
Foxwoods Victory
AFL-CIO

This past week alone, more than 10,000 working people chose to join together in union for the freedom to negotiate a fair return on their hard work. From flight attendants to graduate students, each day more working people are gaining the power to change an economy rigged against us.

In response to the wave of victories, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

We’re living in a profound moment of change. By joining together in a union, working people are joining, fighting and winning together for the dignity that we’ve earned. Despite rigged rules and aggressive corporate attacks, 260,000 new union members joined our ranks last year, and three-quarters of new union members are under the age of 34. As we gain density, we gain power. As we grow in numbers, we grow in influence. That’s how we start to build the America working people need.

Nearly 5,000 JetBlue in-flight crew members will have the freedom to negotiate with the airline’s management after they overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining the Transport Workers (TWU) on Tuesday. Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, said:

At a time when our economy favors the rich and powerful, today’s victory by JetBlue’s inflight crewmembers to join the Transport Workers Union demonstrates the power working people have when they come together.

JetBlue’s 5,000 inflight crewmembers want nothing more than a share in the profits they make possible, a say in workplace policies and procedures, and a seat at the table. Having a powerful union voice evens the playing field and ensures these hardworking, dedicated employees receive the dignity and respect they deserve.

In a historical victory for graduate teaching and research assistants at universities who have been fighting for a fair return on their work, more than 5,000 Harvard University teaching and research assistants decided Thursday to join UAW. Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, said:

I want to congratulate Harvard’s student workers on their incredibly hard work and welcome them to the UAW. They overcame obstacle after obstacle to win a union for themselves and their peers. We look forward to supporting them as they move into bargaining a contract. We have a history of successfully bargaining with NYU, UConn, UMass and, most recently, The New School and are looking forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with Harvard. Today’s victory is a crucial moment in the growing student worker movement—it signals that the appointment of an anti-union NLRB will not stop the thousands who are fighting for their unions. We stand with them.

The labor movement is growing in Southern states, as evidenced Thursday when 700 working people at Atlanta Gas Light, in Atlanta, voted to join the Electrical Workers (IBEW). Lonnie Stephenson, international president of IBEW, thanked the new members:

On Thursday, 2,000 personal support workers and 400 registered nurses at Spectrum Health Care in the greater Toronto area joined the Machinists (IAM). International President Robert Martinez of IAM said:

This victory for Spectrum workers is the best example yet that the IAM’s new strategic growth plan is working. Across our union, we are thinking of new ways to bring dignity and justice on the job to working families who deserve representation at work. Our power at the negotiating table is growing by the day—and that’s good news for IAM members of today and tomorrow.

In Pleasanton, California, 400 registered nurses from Stanford Health Care’s ValleyCare Medical Center will join National Nurses United (NNU) after a majority of them voted to join the union. NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, said:

Congratulations to the ValleyCare RNs. Your vote to join with your CNA colleagues across the Bay Area and throughout California will have an enormous impact on your patients, your neighbors and your colleagues. We are proud of your decision.

In Marlborough, Massachusetts, 220 working people from nurses to clerical staff at UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital decided to join the State Healthcare and Research Employees Union, an affiliate of AFSCME.

The wave of working people in newsrooms who join together in labor unions continues to grow. Last week, an overwhelming majority of editorial employees of the New Republic have signed on to a union organizing effort and have asked management to recognize The NewsGuild of New York/TNG-CWA Local 31003 as their local union. Grant Glickson, president of Local 31003, said:

At a time when our industry needs unions, we are excited to see the staff of this 100-year-old publication demand a seat at the table and a say in the future of the publication. We look forward to working with management in these shared goals.

On Friday, hundreds of working people at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, voted to be represented by the New England Joint Board of UNITE HERE. Warren Pepicelli, manager of the New England Joint Board, said:

[These] workers sent a strong message of unity by voting yes today. We’re hopeful that Foxwoods will respect the workers’ decision and schedule negotiations as soon as possible. We look forward to negotiating in good faith with Foxwoods to address the many concerns that workers have.

At a time when powerful corporations and special interests continue to use a rigged system to their benefit, this kind of momentum proves that working people are standing up to defend the freedom to join together in union.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 04/24/2018 - 09:55
Posted: April 24, 2018, 1:55 pm

Columbia Grad Workers Set to Strike, As Admin Refuses to Bargain

April 23, 2018 / Katie Fustich
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Graduate students at Columbia University are on the verge of a strike over the university’s refusal to bargain with their union, Auto Workers Local 2110.

Members voted earlier this month to authorize a strike, with 93 percent voting yes. “There’s a general sense of injustice and frustration as the university continues to stall illegally,” said bargaining committee member Rosalie Ray, a Ph.D. student in urban planning.

Posted: April 23, 2018, 7:26 pm

Workers Call on Labor Department to Investigate General Dynamics as Wage Theft is Uncovered at Five More Call Centers

Workers at five federal contract call centers operated by General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) filed new wage theft complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Since January, over 2,000 current and former GDIT call center workers have come forward to call on the Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate violations of prevailing wage law at the company.

Posted: April 23, 2018, 7:11 pm

Becky and the Grind

Becky and the Grind Becky’s aunt had given her $300 to catch up on her electric bill so the power would not be turned off in her apartment.  But when Aunt Millie checked with the electric company, the outstanding bills … Continue reading
Posted: April 23, 2018, 2:26 pm

Celebrate Working People This Earth Day

Celebrate Working People This Earth Day

Earth Day is an annual event that celebrates our planet’s natural beauty and calls for the protection of our natural treasures and mitigation of the damage human activity can inflict on our planet. Across the country, working people are a key part of those efforts. Here are some key examples of how working people are making our world a cleaner, safer place every day.

  • AFGE represents workers at the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.
  • Transport Workers (TWU) represents members at various observatories and zoos.

  • At NASA, Machinists (IAM) members build and launch the satellites and rockets that explore Earth from above. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) represents the scientists and engineers at NASA.

  • A large percentage of U.S. Forest Service workers are represented by IAM-NFFE.

  • AFSCME represents water quality workers, solid waste and sewage treatment plant processors who keep the Earth clean. Also represented by AFSCME are parks and recreation employees throughout the country, as well as city/county/state parks workers, including those who monitor fishing and game licenses, animal control, watershed rangers, vehicle emissions testers, public transportation and port workers.

  • Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents working people at state and municipal parks who maintain our natural treasures and make sure they are accessible to the public.

  • Transit and other workers who are part of the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) provide cheaper and more planet-friendly travel options to millions of Americans.

  • Members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) are farm workers throughout the country who harvest our food and get it to our tables.

  • Among the working people represented by the Utility Workers (UWUA) are those who clean the water in St. Louis for Mid-American Water, city recycling workers, arborists who save trees and parks employees.

  • International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) members not only produce the energy-efficient air and heating systems that keep homes and business healthy and comfortable, they manufacture electric buses and team up with various groups to make buildings more environmentally friendly.

  • Electrical Workers (IBEW) are at the forefront of the clean energy revolution, particularly in the growth of wind and solar energy and managing the electrical grid to accommodate more clean energy production.

  • UAW members produce electric cars, lithium battery packs, fuel cells and autonomous vehicles. Members also work at places such as Sierra Club headquarters and Lansing, Michigan’s Forestry Division and Potter Park Zoo.

  • Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) union members install wind turbines and solar panels, and operate the best training programs for renewables installation.

  • Heat and Frost Insulators improve energy efficiency in thousands of buildings large and small.

  • Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA) members install high efficiency HVAC systems that reduce emissions, and assembled 400 volunteers to change water lines and faucets in Flint, Michigan.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to working people working at jobs that are friendly to our planet. Did we miss something? Email us at website@aflcio.org and we’ll add to this list!

Kenneth Quinnell Sat, 04/21/2018 - 11:12
Posted: April 21, 2018, 3:12 pm

From a Whisper to a Roar: The Working People Weekly List

From a Whisper to a Roar: The Working People Weekly List

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s this week’s Working People Weekly List.

 

Andrew Pallotta: A National Lesson in Unionism: “You can hear it building: A movement growing from a quiet whisper to a full roar. In West Virginia and Oklahoma—and in Kentucky and Arizona—teachers are finding their voices. They are standing with their unions to use that collective voice to improve their lives and their communities.”

Arizona Teachers Vote to Strike, Sparking First-Ever Statewide Walkout: “Teachers in Arizona held a strike vote on Thursday that launched a first-ever statewide walkout and turned down a proposed pay raise—instead demanding increased school funding. The Arizona Education Association and the grassroots group the Arizona Educators United announced that teachers will walk off the job April 26.”

Trump’s SEC Proposes Obama-Era Broker Conflict Rules Rewrite: “And on Twitter, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka panned the SEC’s action, calling it ‘insufficient to hold Wall Street accountable.’ ‘We won’t stop fighting,’ Trumka wrote.”

I’m an Undocumented Immigrant. I Pay My Taxes Every Year: “As a young boy, I remember accompanying my parents to visit their accountant and seeing them turn over large folders, neatly organized, with all of their tax forms and corresponding documents. My mother would tell me her priority was to show the government our family was contributing, so that when it came time to become legal permanent residents, and later U.S. citizens, there would be no questions about our contributions to the country.”

Senate Bill to Curtail Labor Rights on Tribal Land Falls Short: “The AFL-CIO said passage of the measure, the subject of several years of tribal lobbying, would have amounted to the most aggressive erosion of labor protections since 1940s. A package of bills containing the measure fell five votes short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster.”

Paid Summer Breaks and Other Common Myths About Teachers: “As teachers in several states across the United States protest for higher pay and more funding for public education, lawmakers and onlookers are debating whether teachers deserve more money. But many of the arguments against teachers’ demands are based on misconceptions about the teaching profession and how they’re compensated.”

Increase Wages, But Also Restore Rights: “As the United States, Mexico and Canada renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, there is a lot of room for improvement. No improvement is more needed, however, than a new labor system in Mexico that secures for all workers the freedom to form and join free and independent unions, so that working people can act democratically and responsibly together to improve their wages and working conditions.”

New Rule on Investment Advice Leaves Working People Vulnerable: “Workers depend on investments in the financial markets to finance our retirements and grow our other long-term savings. That means we need sound investment advice, provided by experts who are looking out for our best interests. While it seems obvious that the people whom we rely on to provide this advice should be required to act in our best interest and not line their own pockets, that is not always the case under current rules. Research shows that, as a result, many working people lose more than one-fourth of their potential retirement paychecks to corrupt financial advice.”

Ten Years Later: Worker Wins: “Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with a victory 10 years in the making and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.”

JetBlue In-Flight Crew Members Overwhelmingly Vote to Join TWU: “In-flight crew members at JetBlue overwhelmingly voted to join the Transport Workers (TWU). With more than 86% of eligible employees participating in the vote, more than two-thirds voted in favor of joining TWU.”

12 Things We’ve Learned About the GOP Tax Bill: “President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans rushed to pass the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, leaving very little time for public scrutiny or debate. Here are a few things we have learned since the GOP tax bill passed.”

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 04/20/2018 - 13:08
Posted: April 20, 2018, 5:08 pm

Increase Wages, But Also Restore Rights

Increase Wages, But Also Restore Rights

As the United States, Mexico and Canada renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, there is a lot of room for improvement. No improvement is more needed, however, than a new labor system in Mexico that secures for all workers the freedom to form and join free and independent unions, so that working people can act democratically and responsibly together to improve their wages and working conditions.

If Mexico’s corrupt labor system does not change, the rest of the NAFTA renegotiation won’t be worth much. Mexico will continue to be a haven for worker exploitation and abuse, and a popular outsourcing destination for greedy CEOs who seek to increase their bottom lines while their employees live in dire conditions. In this, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, president of Mexico’s Mineworkers Union, compellingly argues that North America’s working families have a shared interest in Mexico’s labor rights regime (translated from Spanish):

There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of using the NAFTA renegotiation as an impulse to increase wages in Mexico, since the increase in Mexican workers’ income would eliminate the pretext mentioned by Donald Trump to complicate the treaty, arguing that low wages favor Mexican companies to the detriment of those of the United States and Canada....

But the increases are not so valuable when they are granted without accompanying democratic rights with which workers can defend their gains. In recent years, the Mineworkers Union has achieved an average increase in salaries and benefits above 12%, that is, two or three times higher than those obtained by employer-dominated unions. This success is mainly due to the willingness and ability of our members to mobilize together with their communities, to democratically and responsibly exercise the right to strike to make the union grow with new investment projects, and to organize new members.

It would be a mistake to think that the increases by themselves could solve the deficit of democratic rights that persists in the Mexican labor world. As many experts have observed, Mexican wages in large industries are lower compared with those in other countries, not because of lack of productivity, but because of a diabolical pact between politicians, businessmen and employer-dominated unions to use the legal structure to systematically rob the workers, dividing the booty among themselves.

The most recent example of this alliance is the legislation to implement constitutional reforms in labor matters, which is to be debated in the Senate this week. As many lawyers, academics and trade union leaders have warned, the bill aims to consolidate control of the institutions of labor justice by corrupt unions, complicit officials and companies associated with them, closing off all spaces for workers to attempt to organize in democratic unions and thus negotiate collective agreements that guarantee good salaries, workplace health and safety, the profit sharing to which they are legally and fairly entitled, and the possibility of a dignified retirement....

The only effective strategy to revert the control of large companies and their corrupt union lackeys is to defeat this false bill and approve one that faithfully implements constitutional norms and international agreements signed by Mexico that protect the rights of workers.

This has been the main demand of the international trade unions of Canada, Europe and the United States in their letters addressed to the senators of Mexico. It is another cruel irony that they worry more about the rights of Mexican workers than our own government and, of course, the corrupt trade unionists.

Read the full text of the op-ed (in Spanish).

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 04/20/2018 - 13:01
Posted: April 20, 2018, 5:01 pm

Your Union-Made Snack Guide!

Your Union-Made Snack Guide!
Union-Made Snacks
AFL-CIO

You like snacks, right? Everybody does! Did you know that your snack choices can reflect your values and show support for working people? That's right, when you choose these snacks made by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), you not only have fun, you use the power of your wallet to make the world a better place. Here's a handy guide to let you know which snacks are union-made!

Chips and Pretzels: You have lots of options here (all made by BCTGM), including: Rold Gold pretzels made in Canton, Ohio (Local 19); UTZ pretzels made in Reading, Pennsylvania (Local 6); Frito-Lay products made in Topeka, Kansas (Local 218) and Vancouver, Washington (Local 364); Pirate's Booty and Keystone Foods products made in Easton, Pennsylvania (Local 6); Mikesell’s potato chips made in Dayton, Ohio (Local 57); Happy’s potato chips made in St. Paul, Minnesota (Local 22); and Bugles made in West Chicago, Illinois (Local 316G).

Ice Cream Toppings: If you love ice cream and want some special toppings, get those made by BCTGM at the Masterson Company of Milwaukee (Local 244).

Sweet Goods: Prefer your desserts baked? Try out Safeway's bakery goods made by BCTGM Local 114 (Portland, Oregon), Local 118 (Washington, D.C.), Local 68 (Baltimore) or Hostess Brands, including Ding Dongs, Twinkies, SnoBalls, made from either the Indianapolis (Local 1) or Columbus, Georgia (Local 42) bakeries. 

Bread and Rolls: The following products are made by various BCTGM locals: Bimbo, SB Thomas, Sara Lee, Nature’s Harvest, Earthgrains, Freihofer, Colonial, Metz, Arnold, Brownberry, Oroweat, Entenmann’s, Ball Park, Marinela, Maier’s, Beefsteak, D’Italiano, J.J. Nissen, Boboli, Mrs. Baird’s, Heiner’s, Tia Rosa tortillas and Stroehmann.

Candy: If you want candy, your options are mind-expandingly plentiful. Here are some of the companies where BCTGM members make the candy you need:

  • Annabelle Candy Company: Rocky Road, Abba-Zaba, Look, Big Hunk and U-No made by Local 125 in Oakland, California.
  • Boyer Candy: Mallo Cups, Peanut Butter Cups, Smoothie Cups, Triple Twist Pretzels and Dark Chocolate Mallo Cups made by Local 19 in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Brown & Haley: Almond Roca, Cashew Roca and Mocha Roca made by Local 9 in Seattle.
  • Concord Confections/Tootsie Roll Industries: All Tootise Roll brand products (made by BCTGM Local 1 in Chicago) and Double Bubble Bubble Gum (made by Local 264 in Toronto).
  • Frankford Candy & Chocolate: Gums, jellies, hard candy, molded filled, hollow and solid chocolate (made by Local 6 in Philadelphia).
  • Ghirardelli Chocolate: Pumpkin Spice Caramel Squares, Solid Milk, Milk & Caramel, Solid 60% Cacao Dark and Dark & Sea Salt Caramel and all varieties of chocolates (made by Local 125 in Oakland, California).
  • Hershey: Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars, Hershey Milk Chocolate with Almond Bars, Cookies 'N’ Creme Bars (snack, extra-large and giant sizes only), Hershey Kisses (Milk Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Almonds, Special Dark, Cookies 'N’ Creme), Rolo and Hershey Nuggets (made by Local 464 in Hershey, Pennsylvania). 
  • Jelly Belly: Candy Corn, Jelly Belly Disney Villains bags, Harry Potter Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, Harry Potter Jelly Slugs, Jelly Belly BeanBoozled, Gummi Rats, Gummi Tarantulas and other jelly beans (made by Local 125 in Oakland, California).
  • Nestlé Chocolate: Laffy Taffy, Rope Taffy, Tangy Taffy, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, BB's, Pearson's Nips, Nestlé, Peanut Butter Cups and Minis, Nestlé Crunch Bars, Skinny Cow Candy and Sno Caps (made by Local 342 in Bloomington, Illinois, and Local 1 in Chicago).
  • New England Confectionery Company (NECCO): Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses, Mary Jane Original, Clark Jr., Skybar Zombie Food, Bat Wings, Mummy Hearts, NECCO Jr. Wafers (made by Local 348 in Framingham, Massachusetts).
  • Pearson’s Candy Company: Tins, bagged and chocolate mints, including The Nut Goodie Bar, Salted Nut Roll and Pearson's Mint Patties (made by Local 22 in Twin Cities, Minnesota).
  • Sconza Candy Company: Chocolate Jordanetts, Boston Baked Beans, Yogurt Raisins, Lemoncello Almonds, Chocolate/Yogurt Fruit & Raisins and other products (made by Local 125 in San Leandro, California).
  • See's Candies: Chocolates, nuts and chews, truffles, lollipops, brittles and toffees (made by Local 125 in San Leandro).
Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 04/20/2018 - 12:49
Posted: April 20, 2018, 4:49 pm

Macy’s Workers Unite Across the Country

Macy’s Workers Unite Across the Country
Rally for Macy's Workers
DC Jobs With Justice

Macy’s workers and their supporters held three rallies on Thursday, one as far away as Seattle, as United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals 400 and 21 gear up to negotiate their next union contracts with the company.

Workers want “better pay, better hours, better schedules, better everything,” UFCW 400 member Bianca Morris said on Thursday’s “Your Rights at Work” show on WPFW.

“Negotiations are slow going, but we’ve made it very clear to Macy’s that our goal is to take the time to get the deal that our members have earned,” said UFCW 400 mobilization director Alan Hanson, who joined Morris on the show.

UFCW 400 coordinated with Seattle sister local 21, which also represents hundreds of Macy’s associates, to hold simultaneous rallies Thursday. “We are really excited to be joining forces with our sisters and brothers in the Pacific Northwest,” Hanson said. “We have made a commitment to negotiate together to win the contract we deserve.”

This post originally appeared at Metro Washington (D.C.) Council AFL-CIO.

 

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 04/20/2018 - 11:04
Posted: April 20, 2018, 3:04 pm

She gave the President the finger. Employer gave her the boot.

Juli Briskman was on her own time, riding her bicycle, when President Trump’s motorcade drove by. She expressed her personal feelings with a middle finger salute, not realizing that a news reporter had captured her gesture on camera. She abruptly lost her job after the photo went viral on social media. Her employer, a government […]
Posted: April 19, 2018, 7:38 pm

Bargaining Update

The latest bargaining information for AT&T Midwest and AT&T Legacy T, New Jersey State Workers, Frontier Communications, and Piedmont Airlines.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 7:02 pm

On Tax Day and Beyond, CWAers Fight Back against Corporate Giveaways

CWA members across the country held events on Tax Day to highlight how the Republican corporate tax cut bill is a massive giveaway to big corporations paid for by working families.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:52 pm

Envoy and Piedmont Passenger Service Agents Call for Fair Wages

American and other corporations are facing national scrutiny over how they have used benefits from the Republican corporate tax cut bill that they claimed would lift wages for working families.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:44 pm

New York Takes Steps to Protect Public Workers before Janus Decision

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stood with working people by signing legislation that makes it easier for public workers to join together in unions.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:36 pm

UCW-CWA Members Fight to Improve Adjunct Faculty Working Conditions

United Campus Workers (UCW-CWA) members held events across Tennessee this week for an Adjuncts United Week of Action.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CWA Members Defeat Attempt to Prevent Working People from Improving Working Conditions on Tribal Lands

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have removed protections for working people on Native American lands.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:27 pm

Raising Standards Together in the Wireless Industry

Wireless workers from AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile joined a CWA town hall call this week to share their stories about how they are standing up for their rights.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

CWA Local 2204 and Next Gen are CWA STRONG!

CWA Local 2204 and CWA Next Generation teamed up for a CWA STRONG training in Lebanon, Va., this week.

Posted: April 19, 2018, 6:20 pm

New Jersey to be tenth state with paid sick leave, but the U.S. stays at the bottom worldwide

More than a million workers will be getting paid sick leave soon after New Jersey’s legislature has passed a bill, which Gov. Phil Murphy has said he supports. That makes New Jersey the tenth state to require paid sick leave, and the second to do so in 2018, but New Jersey’s path to this point has […]
Posted: April 18, 2018, 10:32 am

On Tax Day, Working People Are Angry and Fighting Back

A Statement from CWA President Chris Shelton about how those in Congress and the White House have doubled down on increasing the wealth of top executives and shareholders at the expense of everyone else.

Posted: April 17, 2018, 8:46 pm

Arizona teachers could be next to go on strike

Arizona teachers will begin voting on whether to strike on Tuesday. The voting will go on for three days. Although Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced a proposal to raise teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020, which state lawmakers will debate this week, teachers say his proposal doesn’t address education cuts over the past decade or large […]
Posted: April 17, 2018, 10:23 am

Contracted Hospital Workers Win Job Security

April 16, 2018 / Laurel Albina
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For the first time in 15 years, 4,000 subcontracted hospital housekeepers and dietary workers in British Columbia have job security. They won that peace of mind by pulling off a series of escalating actions on the job.

Between 2002 and 2005 the provincial government, headed by the Liberal Party, fired 10,000 hospital support service workers—mostly women and people of color—and subcontracted their jobs to multinational corporations including Aramark, Compass, Sodexo, and Acciona.

Posted: April 16, 2018, 2:43 pm

The Home Maintenance of Working-Class Identity After Deindustrialization

  Five years in a St. Florian foundry, they call it Industrial Park Then hospital maintenance and tech school just to memorize Frigidaire parts But I got to missing your Mama and I got to missing you too And I … Continue reading
Posted: April 16, 2018, 11:29 am

12 Things We've Learned About the GOP Tax Bill

President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans rushed to pass the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, leaving very little time for public scrutiny or debate. Here are a few things we have learned since the GOP tax bill passed. 1. It Will Encourage Outsourcing: An April 2018 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirms […]
Posted: April 16, 2018, 10:27 am

Indiana Teachers ‘Go Green’ To Track Member Sign-Up

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What will happen to public sector unions after the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case this spring? Indiana teachers are already there. Slammed by a “right to work” law in 1996 and a new barrage of attacks in 2011, the teachers experienced what many unions are afraid of—a big drop in membership.

But the Indiana State Teachers Association didn’t roll over and give up after that. The union developed a tracking system called “Go Green” to help local leaders get membership back up.

Posted: April 13, 2018, 1:45 pm

The Special Status of Union Stewards

April 13, 2018 / Robert M. Schwartz
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Standing up to bosses is essential to being a steward. On the shop floor and in grievance meetings, you must defend the actions of members and contest those of management.

In many cases you should be able to make your points temperately, practicing “quiet diplomacy.” But occasions will undoubtedly arise when you will want to raise your voice, challenge a supervisor's credibility, or argue your case in other vigorous ways.

Posted: April 13, 2018, 12:44 pm

Acosta Refuses To Commit to Preserving OSHA Recordkeeping Rule

In a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee today, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta today refused to commit not to rescind OSHA’s electronic recordkeeping rule. The rule, issued in 2016, requires employers to send injury and illness information into OSHA and prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for reporting injuries. The electronic recordkeeping rule has three major parts, […]
Posted: April 13, 2018, 10:20 am

Tesla Workers Say Elon Musk is a Union Buster. The NLRB Just Gave Their Case a Boost.

Tesla factory workers have been trying for months to win restitution for the company’s alleged union-busting and harassment. Now, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint against the company appears to be making strides. Last August, the NLRB filed a complaint against Tesla after finding merit in a number of accusations from employees at its […]
Posted: April 12, 2018, 10:16 am

Massachusetts Moves Forward on Protecting Public Employees. But millions remain without protection.

Question 1: What did the following workers have in common? Mercer County village worker killed in industrial accident MENDON, MERCER COUNTY, OH — A Village of Mendon employee was killed in an industrial accident Thursday at the village utility department, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said. Brendan Poling, 49, had climbed inside the bed of a dump […]
Posted: April 11, 2018, 5:06 am

11 Things You Need to Know on Equal Pay Day

Equal Pay Day calls attention to the persistent moral and economic injustice working women face. For a woman to earn as much as a man, she has to work a full year, plus more than a hundred extra days, all the way to April 10. The problem is even worse for women of color, LGBTQ […]
Posted: April 10, 2018, 4:51 am

Going Public with Working-Class Studies

We started Working-Class Perspectives because we wanted to help readers understand how class works, especially for poor and working-class people. We offered commentaries on issues such as education, politics, and work as well as critiques of media representations of class. … Continue reading
Posted: April 9, 2018, 11:42 am

Kentucky lawmakers put decisions on black lung treatments in hands of industry-paid doctors

The political assault on science in the age of Trump has reached a point where even medical specialties are rising up in protest. Radiologists are fighting back against a new Kentucky law that excludes them from the black lung claims process for coal miners in the state. Under the new legislation, if a miner files a […]
Posted: April 9, 2018, 4:46 am

Most Americans think teachers are underpaid. Here's the graph that shows how right they are.

Are teachers underpaid? Teacher pay has been in the news recently as a wave of teacher walkouts and strikes has hit red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and a recent CBS News poll found that most people say yes. Overall, 68 percent of people said teachers were underpaid, but there were striking regional differences, […]
Posted: April 6, 2018, 4:42 am

50 Years after Memphis: Black Jobs Crisis Continues

April 04, 2018 / Steven Pitts
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On February 1, 1968, Echol Cole and Robert Walker left their homes for their jobs as Memphis sanitation workers. They never returned alive. They were crushed by a malfunctioning garbage truck. Their deaths sparked a strike by their 1,300 union brothers.

The strike was victorious only after months of protests, strong community support, the intervention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Posted: April 5, 2018, 2:10 am

Interview: Reviving the Poor People's Campaign

April 03, 2018 / Rev. Nelson Johnson and Joyce Johnson
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The Poor People's Campaign was born out of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, a clergy-led drive that beginning in 2013 united faith leaders, union members, LGBT activists, and immigrant rights advocates in mass marches and civil disobedience.

Their goals were broad because a right-wing state legislature was moving on all fronts to strip away rights—labor, voting, education, abortion, environmental, unemployment benefits—and the Governor was refusing to accept federal money to expand Medicaid.

Posted: April 3, 2018, 1:55 pm

Scabby the Rat Down Under

Scabby the Rat, a familiar figure on US picket lines, has taken his show on the road. In the past few years, he’s been spotted outside several Australian companies, sometimes accompanied by his pals, Fat Cat and Greedy Pig. Scabby’s … Continue reading
Posted: April 2, 2018, 11:57 am

The Only Way to Survive Janus

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The snows were still flying, but for unionists, spring came early this year. West Virginia’s teacher uprising burst onto the scene like rhododendrons opening: first one walkout, then another, and before you knew it a statewide strike was in full bloom.

The strikes were born at the grassroots, and that’s how they spread. Classroom teachers passed the word on Facebook, organized school votes, and rallied at the capital. Union leaders followed their members, but never took the reins.

Posted: March 30, 2018, 7:04 pm

Book Review: Wobblies of the World: A History of Globetrotting Troublemakers

Despite the “World” in its name, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has largely been viewed as an American or North American union. Indeed, the proposed name “Industrial Workers of America” was considered and rejected at its first convention.

Posted: March 30, 2018, 2:35 pm

West Virginia Teachers Learned from 1970s Miners

As rank-and-file teachers waged their audacious strike in my home state, lots of people cited West Virginia’s stirring labor heritage: the epic mine wars in the 1920s, including the Battle of Blair Mountain, when planes dropped bombs on striking miners, fighting to unionize and end the dictatorship of the coal barons. Teachers proudly wore the miners’ red bandanas as a nod to that history.

Posted: March 28, 2018, 8:18 pm

Book Review: From Mission to Microchip: Rethinking California's Labor History

A recent New York Times article detailed the ways California as a state has become the Trump administration's bête noire. According to reporter Tim Arango, the morning after Trump was elected, "Kevin de León, the State Senate leader, and his counterpart in the Assembly, Anthony Rendon, said they 'woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land.'"

Posted: March 27, 2018, 4:38 pm

Know Your Place: A New Generation of Working-Class Voices

A literary festival isn’t the obvious place to discuss class, but a couple of weeks ago I found myself introducing a session at my local Faversham Literary Festival on a new book called Know Your Place. Edited by Nathan Connolly … Continue reading
Posted: March 26, 2018, 9:51 am

Billy Graham and the Evangelical Origins of Organized Labor

When I heard over breakfast that Billy Graham had died, the news ricocheted around my mind and stirred up lots of memories. The counter of George’s Diner on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn was just the place to begin reflecting … Continue reading
Posted: March 12, 2018, 10:27 am

Have Ohio Democrats Learned Anything About the Working Class?

In presidential elections, Ohio has long been a swing state. Its voters supported Obama in 2008 and 2012, then swung right in 2016 to support Donald Trump. On the state level, however, Republicans have dominated for the past two decades. … Continue reading
Posted: March 5, 2018, 12:37 pm

Working-Class People on the Snowfields: Class at the Winter Olympics

The combination of renewed interest in Tonya Harding (due to the film, I, Tonya) and the winter Olympics made me think of class and sport lately – especially sports that involve snow and ice. Although winter sports might be considered … Continue reading
Posted: February 26, 2018, 12:50 pm

Low Cotton: A Class on Class

I have never picked cotton, but my mother has. She is the youngest of seven children, one of only two who finished high school. My granddaddy was a Scots-Irish sharecropper plowing Georgia red clay. He never owned his own home. … Continue reading
Posted: February 19, 2018, 11:02 pm

Tax Justice and Class Warfare

When Trump Republicans passed the historically unpopular Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, they continued a 3-decades long GOP effort to reshape the tax code in ways that are hard to reverse.  Relying on what political scientists call path dependency, Republicans … Continue reading
Posted: February 12, 2018, 12:22 pm