March 4th, 2014 | SEIU
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representativesfiled a discharge petition that could force Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. A discharge petition is a rarely used legislative maneuver that Democrats hope will bring the minimum wage debate to the floor.
It was through a discharge petition that the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the federal minimum hourly wage and other worker protection provisions, became law in 1938.
However, while Democrats hope for a repeat of 1938, unsurprisingly, Speaker Boehner hasn’t shown any signs that he is interested in bringing the minimum wage debate to the House floor. Come to think of it, not much is worthy of urgency for the Republican leadership in the House.
A raise in the minimum wage, a policy initiative supported by 71 percent of Americans, that wouldn’t increase the federal budget, that would raise wages for 28 million workers, increase the GDP by $22 billion, and create 85,000 new jobs, is sadly not a pressing matter worthy of a House debate.
Neither does immigration reform, unemployment insurance, and the many challenges that the nation faces. While Republican House leadership twiddle their thumb, 1.3 million Americans are without unemployment insurance (UI) and 11 million aspiring Americans continue to hide the shadow, families are torn apart, communities suffer deportations, workers are exploited, men and women die on the border, and millions live without a path to citizenship.
John Boehner’s refusal to consider bringing minimum wage debate to the floor is yet another example that he is out of touch with the needs of the American people.
Author: Jumoke Balogun
March 4th, 2014 | Laura Clawson
Before he was governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker was Milwaukee county executive. Foreshadowing how he’d govern the state, Walker spent his time as county executive slashing Milwaukee’s safety net. As governor, he can do that by pushing and signing laws that lower the bar the state is trying to clear in taking care of its needy residents; as county executive, hemismanaged and neglected and fought back against the basic standards the state had laid out, to the point where the state had to take over Milwaukee county’s welfare programs:
At the height of the recession, in 2008 and 2009, requests for aid in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, soared. But in Milwaukee, where 41 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line, people had trouble getting help. Roughly 95 percent of calls to the county’s client-intake call center went unanswered in 2008, a state probe later found.The social services department budget funded 25 positions at the intake center, but a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter found only seven staffers working among empty cubicles when he visited. [...]
But the problems weren’t just at the call center. In 2008, one out of five food stamp recipients dropped for ineligibility were in fact eligible, and wrongly cut from the program. In 2007, 60 percent of county decisions to cut food or other aid were overturned on appeal within two months. Roughly 30 percent of needy applicants were waiting more than two weeks for aid. Two-thirds of all complaints received by state welfare agencies involved Milwaukee County residents having problems obtaining Medicaid, food aid and child care services. And while the state paid a higher share of Milwaukee’s income-maintenance program costs than in other counties, Walker complained that state funding was inadequate.
Walker’s answer to his own mismanagement was, predictably enough, privatizing the services. And he used these battles—his drive to hurt Milwaukee’s most vulnerable residents—to appeal to Republican voters statewide in his 2010 gubernatorial run. Walker may just be the purest embodiment of the Republican divide-and-conquer strategy, always looking for the next poor black person or union member to attack as a moocher who has it too easy, chipping away at one group after another as long as he and millions of dollars of Republican dark money can keep a big enough chunk of voters convinced that they are the fine upstanding citizens who will be immune to his attacks. But he will always have his eye on the next target.
This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on March 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.
March 4th, 2014 | Kenneth Quinnell
AFT and In the Public Interest launched a new website Thursday, Cashing in on Kids, to track charter schools and the private companies that often run them on a for-profit basis. The two groups argue that corporate-run charter schools are doing a bad job of serving students and that there is little accountability for these companies. In particular, the website will track K12 Inc., Academics, Imagine Schools, Charter Schools USA and White Hat Management.
AFT President Randi Weingarten says:
This is a simple exercise of following the money. How many times do people simply get up on a pedestal and say we care about kids, and then you realize that they care about profits, they care about tax deductions, they care about privatizing the public system?…If accountability and transparency should go all ways, let’s look at the accountability and transparency in terms of charter schools, not just in terms of public schools.
The website will track each of the companies, collecting news, official sources and investigations into the corporations and how they run the schools they operate. On a conference call with bloggers, Weingarten says that AFT isn’t opposed to charter schools in theory, but the evidence has shown that the schools run by these companies, in particular, are failing to live up to the promises they have made to students and their parents.
“I am not anti-charter, and there are many people that run great charter schools that are very well-intentioned and well-meaning,” Weingarten says. “But there are also people within the so-called charter school movement…who are really all about profiteering.”
The website also will highlight charter schools that engage in good practices. “If we can see thoughtful education practices, effective schools, it’s not simply a matter of focusing on the negative. If there’s positive, you focus on the positive, too.”
You can learn more by visiting the Cashing in on Kids website or on Twitter or Facebook.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on March 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
March 4th, 2014 | Michelle Chen
The 2014 Brazil World Cup made big headlines again this week after a controversial Adidas promotional campaign that the country’s tourist board says suggests that Brazil is a lascivious pit of sexual debauchery. As part of the elite club of mega-sporting event host nations, the “emerging” economic powerhouse of Brazil is understandably concerned about its public image and was quick to condemn the thong-shaped t-shirt logos. But officials of this rising star of Latin America seem noticeably less concerned about a touchier scandal buried beneath the pageantry: systematic human rights abuses and labor exploitation.
In recent months, several workers have died on construction sites for stadiums and other huge infrastructure projects designed to accommodate this summer’s football extravaganza, and in the lead-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
In early February, Portuguese technician Antônio José Pita Martins died in a crane accident while working on the construction of the Arena da Amazônia football stadium in the steamy city of Manaus, the largest metropolis in the Amazon basin. The death came after two other construction worker fatalities in the same area in December: Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, 22, plunged 115 feet to his death from the stadium rooftop. Around the same time, another worker at a nearby convention center site died of a heart attack, reportedly linked to overwork, since workers were being pressed to keep up with the scheduled construction timetable. In November, two others were killed when a crane fell at the Corinthians arena in São Paulo, which will host the World Cup’s opening match.
The fatalities, as well as other labor disputes, have led to work stoppages and threats of strikes, which have further disrupted the already-behind-schedule construction timetable and exacerbated the deadline pressure from the World Cup governing authority FIFA. The possibility of another strike was raised earlier this month after the death of Martins.
Builders union leader Cicero Custodio told Brazilian media, “We have to guarantee the workers’ rights and their safety,” and said the site would be closed the following Monday.
Global mega-sporting events are often marketed as an opportunity to foster growth and cultural exchange, and for years FIFA has issued broad standards—which are not legislation and are therefore nonbinding, but are backed by FIFA’s enormous commercial and political clout—for protecting human rights and promoting good labor practices in host countries. But activists see Brazil’s mammoth investments in stadiums and commercial infrastructure as an impediment to the emerging superpower’s long-term social progress, or even an instrument of oppression, providing a pretext for massive displacement and demolition of shantytowns, as well as the suppression of labor and civil rights.
Of course, the human rights and economic justice issues that have surfaced in Brazil are more the rule than the exception in the arena of international sport. Similar issues with overspending and displacement emerged in the preparations for the Athens and Sochi Olympic Games, as well as the South African World Cup.
In an extensive analysis published in 2012, the Brazilian advocacy network National Coalition of Local Committees for a Peoples’ World Cup and Olympics contends: “If it is true that mega events offer an opportunity for social inclusion of workers through job creation and the expansion of labor rights, this has not been the Brazilian reality.” Whether they are laborers at infrastructure projects, or informal workers who have been “suppressed” by regulations that ban them from working in World Cup commercial zones, the report states, “there is an observable pattern towards increased precariousness of labor” perpetuated by large companies and consortia as well as government agencies that coddle the corporations and fail to hold them accountable.
Workers not only have to worry about injuries on the job, but being sucked into Brazil’s vast underground labor market. Last September, the AP reported that after the construction company OAS forced the workers to pay $250 each for the privilege of getting hired for a construction project at the international airport in São Paolo, according to labor officials, “many had to sleep on thin mattresses spread out on the floor and lacked for water, refrigerators and stoves. … While the workers apparently were not held against their will, they were forced to live in conditions so miserable that the Labor Ministry defines them as ‘slave-like.’” For their trouble, they were reportedly offered $3,000 in compensation by the company before being sent home.
Much like overseas migrant laborers (as we’ve reported before, Qatar’s preparation for the 2022 World Cup has generated massive scandals around the abuse of migrant workers), Brazil’s internal labor trafficking networks use recruiters to lure poor rural workers to faraway worksites, where they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation or coercion.
Many Brazilians have been directly uprooted by the projects through forced evictions. In 2011 United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Raquel Rolnik sharply criticized “what seems to be a pattern of lack of transparency, consultation, dialogue, fair negotiation, and participation of the affected communities in processes concerning evictions undertaken or planned in connection with the World Cup and Olympics.”
But Brazilians, who are just emerging from years of post-dictatorship civil unrest and economic turmoil, have special reason to feel outraged. Brazil has developed a strong set of laws protecting labor rights and relatively broad social welfare programs, thanks to president Dilma Rousseff and her administration’s social democracy-inspired populist policies. But the hyper-commercialism of the games has inspired more resentment than national pride, and protests have exploded over the past year, led by youth, workers and the rising middle-class—all frustrated with the government’s failure to resolve massive inequality and the underfunding of social services like public transit.
In an essay in the Progressive last June, María Carrión quoted activist Rafael Lima, who represented his favela Bairro da Paz in Salvador at a community meeting about pending development plans for the World Cup:
We are not interested in waving Brazilian flags or volunteering for the World Cup… We need jobs. We need education. We need land titles. We need health care. And we need to know where this road they are planning to build is going, and who will be affected.”
Julia Neiva, a researcher with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, an organization that monitors the human rights records of companies, tells Working In These Times the controversy over working conditions in Brazil’s World Cup preparations, combined with the public backlash against the games in general, reflect a deeper sentiment in civil society that while the country has managed to lift many people out of poverty over the last decade, “now we need equality.” The struggle here is ensuring that government investments are supporting workers and communities in their fight for secure jobs and social dignity—rather than pouring public money into nationalist marketing campaigns and colossal sporting events.
“Countries like Brazil that are claiming to be global leaders need to meet the human rights requirements and human rights standards,” she adds. And unlike the half-finished stadiums dotting the country, there’s no need to build Brazil’s social protections from scratch: “It’s already in our laws, not something that we need to create.”
This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on February 28, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times, a contributor to Working In These Times, and an editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has appeared on Alternet, Colorlines.com, Ms., and The Nation, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.
March 4th, 2014 | Berry Craig
Labor haters love to claim that unions only care about their own members.
The claims are baloney of course. Unions advocate for more than just men and women who pack union cards.
Unions champion the whole working class. No one understood that better than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said:
“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”
On March 5, 1964, Dr. King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League baseball player, helped lead more than 10,000 people – including several union members — in a march to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort. The march was in support of a bill introduced by State Rep. Norbert Blume of Louisville, a union-card carrying Democrat, that would outlaw racial discrimination in public places such as stores, restaurants, movie theatres and hotels.
Blume had been president of Teamsters Local 783 in the Falls City. Some of the union members who joined the procession were Sam Ezelle, secretary-treasurer of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO; Jimmy Stewart, business manager of Louisville Laborers Local 576; and union and civil rights activist W.C. Young of Paducah.
Blume’s bill didn’t pass, but the Louisville lawmaker didn’t give up. Too, the march helped provide important momentum for passage of the Blume-backed Civil Rights Act of 1966, the first such measure approved by a Southern state.
Union members, including Bill Londrigan, state AFL-CIO president, are expected to help swell the ranks of a 50th Anniversary Civil Rights March on the capitol on March 5. The special commemoration is sponsored by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission and the Allied Organizations for Civil Rights, a coalition that includes the state AFL-CIO, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
“The historic March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic ‘I have a Dream’ speech included the input and close participation of trade unionists such as A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Walter Reuther,” Londrigan said. “The participation and support of organized labor was also evident fifty years ago during the March on Frankfort when trade unionists such as Norbert Blume, W.C. Young, Sam Ezelle and Jimmy Stewart had significant roles in the march as well as strong support for passage of Kentucky’s historic Civil Rights Act of 1966.”
He added, “The upcoming March 5th march and rally in Frankfort represents another significant event when organized labor will again rise to the occasion to support and participate in this fifty-year commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort. On March 5th, organized labor will again demonstrate our long and deep commitment to civil and workers’ rights, because organized labor knows that civil rights and workers’ rights cannot be separated and Kentucky’s labor movement is proud to stand for and struggle for both.”
I don’t know if union marchers in 1964 included Bill Sanders, Young’s good friend and union brother. Sanders headed the West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council in Paducah for many years.
Dubbed “Mr. Western Kentucky Labor,” Sanders once told me a story that’s another good example of how unions change “misery and despair into hope and progress.”
He recalled a Detroit woman, a stranger almost penniless and down on her luck, who got drunk in Paducah and ended up in jail. She had hurt her knee and needed medical attention.
Sanders’ office was close to the lockup. He remembered:
“The jailer came over to me and told me about her. He said, ‘Bill, you’ve got a union meeting this morning. Will you see what you can do?’ I said I would, and I asked him how much money she would need. The jailer said ‘$500 for her hospital bill and she’ll have to have some traveling money, too.’
“Well, we made up all that money. So I went down to the hospital and gave this money to that lady, and she said, ‘Mr. Sanders, when I get better, I’m going back to Detroit and go back to my husband and try to work things out.’ When she got well, she went back to Detroit, joined the church and got back with her husband. That’s the kind of things unions do that never get in the paper.”
Author: Berry Craig, AFT Local 1360
February 24th, 2014 | SEIU
Executives at GAP heard President Obama’s State of the Union call for businesses to raise wages loud and clear. The retailer announced today that by next year, all of its workers will be making at least $10 an hour.
While GAP is making the right move and doing right by its 90,000 workers around the country, Congress must follow suit to lift millions out of poverty. There are bills in both the House and the Senate that would raise the federal minimum wage for 16 million workers and lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty. Yet, hardline Republicans in Congress continue using the same tired excuses against giving Americans a raise.
When even Wal-Mart is considering raising wages, when the President increases the minimum wage for federal contracted workers and makes raising wages a cornerstone of his national agenda and when an overwhelming majority of Americans support an increase in the minimum,it is definitely time for Congress to take action.
But government action isn’t the only answer to raising wages. That’s why today’s move by GAP is an example that corporations should follow.
This article was originally printed on SEIU on February 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Author: Jumoke Balogun
February 24th, 2014 | Laura Clawson
The UAW is appealing its narrow loss in the recent union representation vote at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, citing Republican politicians’ threats against jobs if workers unionized. The union is asking the National Labor Relations Board to hold a new election. For his part, Sen. Bob Corker remains on the offensive
, blasting the union as being “only interested in its own survival and not the interests of the great employees at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen facility nor the company for which they work.” Because threatening to block support for VW’s expansion if workers did unionize shows that Tennessee Republicans were entirely focused on the workers’ interests, don’t you know.It’s very uncertain whether the UAW’s appeal will be successful. Lydia DePillis points tocompeting precedents
. On the one hand:
… the Board has seen the reverse situation, in which politicians endorsed a union. In 2011, for example, the Communications Workers of America won an election at Affiliated Computer Services, which New York State had retained to set up its EZPass system for road tolls. The company objected, saying that a U.S. congressman and a New York State senator had influenced the election by making statements in favor of the union — and also by pointing out that they sat on committees that oversaw the company’s business.The Board disagreed, ruling that “public officials, even public officials involved in the regulation of the employer’s industry, like other third parties, are not required to remain neutral and may properly seek to persuade employees.”
On the other hand:
… in 2000, the Board ruled that politicians in the Northern Mariana Islands had sullied an election by targeting non-residents who voted to join a hotel union. The D.C. Circuit reversed its decision for lack of evidence, but didn’t touch the principle that lawmakers had the power to create an untenable environment of fear.
Getting a new vote is a long shot, and winning it is an even longer one, given the dedication to intimidation shown by Republicans and outside groups, as well as the fact that some significant chunk of the plant’s workers would be unlikely ever to vote for a union, given the anti-union environment of the south. The threats from Corker and other Tennessee Republicans were all upside down—they weren’t going to face any personal penalties, and they had the opportunity to make a difference in a close election.
This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on February 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.
February 24th, 2014 | Mike Hall
Last week in Arizona, the tea party-dominated legislature passed a bill that will allow businesses to slam their doors shut on anyone they say doing business with would violate their religious beliefs. While the bill was aimed primarily at the LGBTQ community, in effect, it could allow business owners to discriminate against anyone.
Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has until Friday to sign or veto the bill. Call 888-968-2464 and urge Brewer to veto the bill.
When the bill passed, Anna Tovar, the state Senate Democratic minority leader, said:
With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.
Sate Rep. Chad Campbell (D) told CNN Friday:
Let there be no doubt about what this bill does. It’s going to allow people to discriminate against the gay community in Arizona. It goes after unprotected classes of people and we all know that the biggest unprotected class of people in the state is the LBGT community. If we were having this conversation in regard to African Americans or women, there would be outrage across the country right now.
Aside from the outrageousness of virtually legalizing discrimination, if signed into law, the bill is likely to have a serious negative economic impact on the state. Arizona AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rebekah Friend says it “could prompt an economic backlash against the state, similar to what occurred when the state passed the controversial immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, in 2010.”
It’s estimated those boycotts cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue and hundreds of millions in spending that would have gone to local businesses.
U.S. Sens. John McCain (R) and Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona have urged Brewer to veto the bill, and a large part of the business community has lined up against the bill. In a letter to Brewer urging her to veto the legislation, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council said:
The legislation will likely have profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come….The legislation places businesses currently in Arizona, as well as those looking to locate here, in potentially damaging risk of litigation, and costly, needless legal disputes.
It also warned Brewer that four unidentified companies have vowed to locate elsewhere if the legislation is signed.
Other businesses have spoken out against the measure. In Tucson, Anthony Rocco DiGrazia, owner ofRocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, posted a sign (see above) that reads, “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Arizona Legislators.” He told The Huffington Post:
I just want to serve dinner and own and work in a place I’m proud of. Opening the door to government-sanctioned discrimination, regardless of why, is a huge step in the wrong direction.
Shannon Austin Zouzoulas, co-owner of a brewery and winery call Arizona Hops & Vines, called the bill “pro-hate” and posted the picture below of a rainbow liquid swirling in a wine glass on their Facebook pageFriday with the caption:
Arizona Hops and Vines Loves ALL our customers!
Apparently some other Arizona businesses hate certain types of their customers and will be able to discriminate against them if Brewer signs the bill into law. Call 888-968-2464 and urge her to veto the bill.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on February 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.
February 24th, 2014 | David Moberg
The labor movement has a new driving message for its legislative, educational and political work that should resonate with most American workers, especially those who have the least: Your pay is too damn low!
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka put it less colloquially this week than the New York gubernatorial candidate who once ran on a single message: ”Rent is too damn high.” Organized labor will put “a laser focus on raising wages,” Trumka told reporters in Houston at the start of the winter quarterly meeting of the federation’s executive council.
Whatever the words, the case for action is strong. Wages have stagnated for all but the rich for more than a decade and fallen for low-wage workers, according to theEconomic Policy Institute, a leading research institution on labor markets. Adjusting for inflation over the past four years, hourly wages for workers in the bottom 30 percent have fallen an average of 68 cents an hour.
Those trends, mirrored by the top 1 percent capturing 95 percent of all the new income growth following the end of the Great Recession, explain why inequality is growing, according to University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.
However, as Trumka notes, the general public, as well as leaders from “the Pope to the president,” have begun to express outrage over inequality. A minimum-wage boost has been increasingly on the U.S. agenda, with a $10.10 federal minimum proposed by Congressional Democrats and supported by Obama. Although the AFL-CIO is promoting the $10.10 minimum, Trumka says he favors a “living wage” standard set around $17 an hour, indexed to inflation.
“Wages are about what connects us all,” he told reporters, suggesting that labor’s campaign for a raise for all workers could bring old and new allies together in a powerful movement for economic fairness.
It’s no surprise that unions want workers to earn more, and this is not the AFL-CIO’s first call for higher wages across the board. The labor federation adopted much the same focus after John Sweeney and Trumka first won the top posts in the AFL-CIO in 1995. (Sweeney authored a book titled America Needs a Raise: Fighting for Economic Security and Social Justice.) But progress has been slow. Despite some victories on minimum wages, living wages (which typically mean a higher minimum for certain workers, such as public contactors), and other measures, workers need a raise now even more than two decades ago.
The AFL-CIO campaign to raise wages centers on supporting legislation that would raise the federal and state minimum wages (including the minimum for tipped workers, frozen at $2.15 since 1991). But it goes further than that, to backing a broad swath of local, state and national proposals that would help workers prosper, including measures to establish living wages, strengthen enforcement against employer wage theft, guarantee paid sick days and bolster basic federal social safety-net programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. (Unions in many industries are seeking to preserve their non-profit healthcare plans jointly administered with management, which are threatened to be crippled by the ACA’s denial of subsidies and incentivization of limiting workers’ hours.)
Trumka did not outline any new tactics beyond labor’s standard ones: political education and mobilization to try to make wage and inequality issues central to the election this fall.
But he thinks the conditions are ripe to build public support for a wage boost. “Workers are sick and tired of wages being flat, not growing, and they’re working harder and harder and harder and getting by on less and less,” Trumka said. In this climate, if progressive politicians focus on raising incomes through cash or benefits, they will beat right-wingers, he says. Even the ACA, which has taken the brunt of Republican attacks, has millions of beneficiaries, and those ranks are growing every day. Without a viable alternative, the Right’s attacks on the ACA are likely to backfire, he said.
Trumka also passionately embraced a stronger campaign on immigrant worker rights, an issue on which unions and most immigrant rights organizations have already been working closely. The AFL-CIO has become much sharper in its criticisms of the deportation of immigrants, which has soared under Obama. “I think there is a rationale to stop the deportation,” Trumka said. “The system is broken. Three and one-half minutes of due process is a broken system,” he said, citing the average time for a legal deportation hearing with translation time factored out, drawing on a report by a deportation hearing judge to an AFL-CIO committie.
The AFL-CIO also intends to continue its work with “civic engagement” of immigrants, particularly by encouraging the naturalization and voter registration of the approximately 9.7 million legal immigrants eligible to become citizens, and eventually the registration of the 15 million U.S.-born children of immigrants who will become eligible to vote as they turn 18.
On an ideological level, he combined emphasis on fighting deportation and encouraging citizenship represents labor’s growing identification with a broader democratic movement. And on a pragmatic level, fighting deportation removes a tool employers often use to threaten migrant workers and depress wages, while naturalization and voter registration of immigrants, who tend to be progressive, increase the odds of electing liberal politicians.
Although prospects for passing any federal immigration bill appear dim, the AFL-CIO will continue to push for it, if for no other reason than to make the Republicans’ political quagmire over immigration deeper and stickier at election time.
The AFL-CIO executive council, which is made up mainly of presidents of affiliated unions, also is working to implement two other convention resolutions: how to make the AFL-CIO’s state federations and local central union bodies more accountable for following federation strategies and for fostering mutual support among unions, and how to expand and strengthen alliances with other progressive groups.
RoseAnn DeMoro, head of National Nurses United and a member of the executive council, applauds Trumka’s efforts to mobilize labor for a larger challenge to corporate power. “Rich wants to change how we’re doing our work completely,” she said. “He wants everyone working collectively. He wants us in low-wage areas. He wants us mobilized in every street. He’s talking about a completely reformed, far more aggressive labor movement. We’re at a crossroads. We either completely transform or continue in the same direction.”
This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on February 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: David Moberg is a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.
February 24th, 2014 | Nicolas Orihuela
Chris Kluwe was back in the headlines this week for his public support of Michael Sam, a top NFL draft prospect, who announced on Sunday that he is gay. Chris Kluwe, a former punter with the Minnesota Vikings, claimed earlier this year that he was released from the team for his public support of gay marriage.
As high profile athletes, Kluwe and Sam command the attention of the media and the electorate when they speak up on important societal issues. Michael Sam has indicated that he will not engage in activism in support of gay rights and will choose instead to focus on his fledgling NFL career.
While I do not know him nor pretend to know his motives, I can’t help but think: is the fear of losing out on a high draft pick or not being signed by an NFL team driving his decision not to engage in political activity outside the locker room? Losing a job should not be a concern that employees have when considering whether to engage in political activities outside the workplace. Which brings us back to Kluwe’s situation and the question of whether the Vikings had the right to terminate him, assuming his allegations are true, for voicing his political views on gay rights?
With politics a part of daily life, it is only natural that the world of work and politics will collide. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for employees to be terminated when the political opinions within these worlds also collide. Recently, Dick Metcalf, a well known gun journalist, was fired from his job writing for Guns & Ammo magazine after he wrote a column calling into question the absolute right to bear arms.
And take the recent case of Maria Conchita Alonso, a Latin-American actress, who was to participate in a Spanish language version production of “The Vagina Monologues.” After voicing her support for a Republican California gubernatorial candidate, Tim Donnelly, she was met with fierce protest and basically forced to resign from the production.
The difficulty lies in how to draw the boundaries around protected speech so that the political beliefs and activities of both the employee and the employer are respected. Employers will argue their own right to political expression and that they should be able to regulate disruptive political activity in the workplace. However, employers should not have the power to make employment decisions solely based on the political activities outside the workplace. An employee should simply be able to take a personal stand on political issues (rightly or wrongly) without fear of retribution.
Like Chris Kluwe, most workers who engage in political activity do so on their own time and outside of the workplace. But without any statutory protection, employers are able to misuse their economic power to influence the political activities of their employees no matter where those activities take place.
Now, if Chris Kluwe played for the Raiders, 49ers or Chargers — all based in California — his right to political speech would be protected. Two statutes (sections 1101 and 1102 of the California Labor Code) make it unlawful for private employers to retaliate against employees because of their political affiliations or political activities. California seems to be one of the very few states that protects employees from retaliation for engaging in political discourse outside of work or while at work.
So where does our punter, Mr. Kluwe, stand? As a result of his allegations, the Vikings are now investigating his claims and have interviewed Mr. Kluwe about his allegations. However, there is no guarantee that the team will corroborate what he alleges. And because he does not live in California, there is also no guarantee that the Vikings will remedy any wrongdoing. While I hope that the Vikings will do the right thing, the natural tendency is for large employers and institutions to close ranks and do nothing to change. We’ll see soon enough whether the Vikings decide to punt the issue or tackle the issue head on.
This article was originally printed on CELA Voice on February 13, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Nicolas Orihuela is a founding partner of the employment law firm of Hurwitz, Orihuela & Hayes, LLP and has been practicing since 2002. He represents employees in race discrimination, sex harassment, wrongful termination and disability discrimination related cases. He also handles wage and hour cases. Mr. Orihuela is a member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, which are organizations dedicated to protecting the rights of employees and consumers. He is a graduate of Loyola Law School and Loyola Marymount University. While at Loyola Law School he served as a Staff Writer and Articles Editor of the Loyola of Angeles Law Review. Prior to founding Hurwitz, Orihuela & Hayes, LLP in 2007, he worked at Lim, Ruger & Kim, LLP where he handled employment matters, including wage and hour class actions, on behalf of employees.