Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

It’s Time to Clean Up the Los Angeles Garment Industry’s Dirty Secret

April 8th, 2014 | Kevin Kish

Kevin Kish 1On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan. Today, we know our clothes are still often sewn in lethal conditions in foreign factories.  Last year’s disastrous Rana Plaza collapse and a series of deadly factory fires resulted in much hand-wringing over how to improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry. But 103 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, we still have our own dirty garment secret, much closer to home.

There are some 5,000 garment manufacturers registered in Los Angeles County where an estimated 50,000 workers make clothes. The true numbers are almost certainly higher since many businesses do not report their employees, pay taxes, or carry insurance. Some L.A. garment factories are safe and decent workplaces where skilled employees make high-end denim, swimwear, and other products for elite brands. But in many others, where clothes are sewn for the “fast fashion” industry, the conditions are similar to those in New York sweatshops over a century ago or to those in Bangladesh today.

Bet Tzedek, the public-interest law firm where I practice, has represented hundreds of L.A. garment workers over the past decade, and their stories are sobering. Workers earn as little as two cents per completed garment. The pay, predictably, falls far below minimum wage, sometimes less than $200 for workweeks of 65 hours or more. Even in factories where breaks are permitted, piece-rate pay encourages workers to stay at their sewing machines for unbroken stretches. Musculoskeletal pain and related health problems are common. Over 100 years after workers were unable to escape the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory because the doors were locked, some of our clients have worked in factories without access to fresh water or functioning bathrooms, where bales of fabric block fire exits, and where owners lock workers in the building during overnight shifts.

Statistics bear out our clients’ testimony. According to research conducted by UCLA, over 90% of garment workers in L.A. experience overtime violations, and more than 60% are not paid minimum wage. The federal Department of Labor (DOL) found violations in 93% of the 1,500 inspections of garment factories it has conducted since 2008.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In January 2000, a landmark law went into effect in California with the intention of eradicating garment sweatshop labor. Before passage of the law, known as AB633, factories that often had no assets other than a few sewing machines would close, move, or reorganize under a different name in response to legal claims, leaving workers empty handed. AB633 established an administrative process in which companies that contract with sweatshops can also be liable for a share of workers’ unpaid wages.

In response, the industry reorganized. Over the past decade, thousands of middleman companies sprang into existence to funnel orders from retailers to factories. These subcontractors create a buffer between workers and the fashion houses that profit from sweatshop conditions. Not coincidentally, this is the same subcontracting structure that now prevails in the garment industry around the world, surprising brands like Walmart and Sears when their production documents are recovered from places like the rubble of Rana Plaza or the ashes of the Tazreen factory.

While we assume that U.S. garment factories are well-regulated, my clients know better: their bosses simply lock the doors to workrooms when potential inspectors are seen approaching. And paying citations is a relatively minor cost of doing business in an industry where the vast majority of workers, many of whom are Asian or Latina immigrant women, are too afraid to file a complaint.

In response to the tragedies in Bangladesh, some companies have entered agreements to inspect and monitor the factories there. Here at home, there is no such movement. When the DOL found garments allegedly destined for Forever 21 stores being sewn by workers in L.A. making less than minimum wage, Forever 21 fought the agency’s subpoena in federal court, arguing that it shouldn’t be forced to disclose sensitive information such as where it makes clothes or what systems it has in place to monitor compliance with the law.

There is little incentive for the law-abiding sector of the industry to get involved. Fashion houses paying fair wages for domestic labor are not competing for the same customers as the companies using sweatshop labor. And organizing a low-wage, immigrant workforce on an industry-wide scale requires investments of time and money that have not been forthcoming.

What else can be done? Paying workers less than minimum wage is theft, and criminal prosecutions of factory owners could cause many to rethink their business models. Aggressive investigations by government agencies could begin to unpeel the layers of subcontracting that protect the reputations of retailers and keep the sweatshop system humming.

The simplest solution would be a law clarifying that retailers are liable to workers who prove they sewed garments sold in stores, regardless of who signed the contract with the factory or how many subcontractors were involved. Such a law would swiftly clean up supply chains. But it would also likely mean fewer inexpensive clothes for shoppers and could send more garment jobs overseas if we aren’t willing to pay more.

The question is whether we want sweatshops in our backyard. It took more than 1200 dead bodies for the Bangladesh agreements to be proposed. What will it take here?

This article was originally printed on CELA Voice on March 25, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kevin Kish is the Director of the Employment Rights Project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, in Los Angeles. He leads Bet Tzedek’s employment litigation, policy and outreach initiatives.

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Ohio Extremists Next Target? College Athletes

April 8th, 2014 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallNot content to only go after collective bargaining rightspensions andvoting rights, the extremists in Ohio are targeting a new group of their state’s residents, attempting to pre-empt any attempt by college athletes to organize and express their rights. After the National Labor Relations Board ruled that players at Northwestern University were employees of the school, and could thus form a union, Ohio’s right-wingers took action to tryto stop athletes at Ohio colleges and universities from following suit, proposing a bill that would specify that college athletes aren’t employees in Ohio.

There haven’t been any reported discussions of athletes in Ohio attempting to follow in the Northwestern players’ footsteps and the bill has a way to go before it could become law, but maybe the audacity of these people will inspire college athletes at schools like Ohio State to stand up for their rights before the legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R) can take them away.

In a press release, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said:

Once again, Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives are spending time trying to engineer punitive proposals instead of working to move Ohio forward, create jobs and improve our struggling economy. This time they are attempting to pre-empt athletes at public colleges and universities from being declared employees. Is this really what Ohioans are worried about? This a labor law matter, which may or may not become an issue, and should it become one there will be plenty of public debate. If Republicans in the House feel compelled to address this matter, they should try to engage in a productive way by dealing with the real concerns of fairness and safety where the players and university leaders have expressed common themes for change. A good place to start a public discussion would be to allow athletes who get injured in their sport to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under the law.

Mike Gillis, a spokesperson for the state federation, added:

There’s millions being made off the work and also blood, sweat and tears that these athletes endure. They should be offered every protection that employees enjoy, if not more, especially because they are not paid.

Meanwhile, the Colorlines points out Shabazz Napier, a senior on the University of Connecticut men’s basketball national championship team, often goes to bed “hungry.” Read more from the Colorlines.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 8, 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.

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Republicans Dismiss Equal Pay Efforts While Touting Their Outreach to Women

April 8th, 2014 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonRepublicans are mounting a counteroffensive against Equal Pay Day, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and indeed the very notion that equal pay is a serious issue. Since you can’t straight-up admit to opposing equal pay, the substance of the Republican counteroffensive is essentially this: We support equal pay. Just not any efforts to actually make it a reality.

It’s misleading, they say, to say that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, because that’s not entirely a result of active discrimination. So let’s dismiss the social forces that lead to jobs dominated by women being paid less than jobs dominated by men, let’s dismiss the pressures that push women into lower-paying jobs or out of the workforce altogether, and then, just for good measure, let’s also wave away active, intentional discrimination. Because you can’t deal with that without government action or lawsuits against employers, and as Republicans, we’re definitely opposed to both of those things. So, oops, looks like there’s nothing we can do.

And talking about unequal pay is bad because, in the words of Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum, “Perpetuating the myth that women are a victim class harms women and makes them feel weak.” Heavens, no. Women are empowered by their lack of economic power, I suppose.

Republicans are also rolling out their more general answer on their problems attracting women voters, and of course, again, the answer is not to promote policies that help women. It’s to jump up and down pointing at the few women they have in office now. “See! Women! Now vote for us, ladies.” Never mind that of the 20 women in the Senate, just four are Republican (and while Democrats control the Senate, it’s not by a four to one margin, sadly). Never mind that of the 82women in the House, just 20 are Republicans—8.2 percent of their party’s House membership, compared to 29 percent of the Democratic Party’s House membership. (Which is to say, Democrats need to improve, but Republicans are downright pathetic.)

So, in keeping with their lack of interest in policy solutions for problems that women in particular face, Republicans are on the phone to Politico every other day announcing some new discussion of how they already represent women super well, thanks very much, and are now ready to make sure that women voters understand this. But, uh:

House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the only GOP woman in leadership in either chamber. There are also fewer female Republican candidates running than in past election cycles.

But never mind all that! After all, they’re making a sincere effort to keep any of their male candidates and incumbents from talking publicly about legitimate rape this time around, so it’s all good, right? Right?

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on April 8, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

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Affordable Care Act Spurs Largest Health Coverage Expansion in 50 Years

April 8th, 2014 | SEIU

seiu-org-logoThe Affordable Care Act has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in 50 years. Over 9.5 million uninsured now have insurance!

A key component to the ACA’s success was the education and outreach campaign conducted by SEIU nurses, doctors, child care providers and security officers nationwide. Members reached more than 2.4 million people over the course of the first open enrollment period through enrollment events, phone calls, door knocking and through online outreach.

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“People are calling back and saying, ‘I love you!’?” Efia Joseph, a 35-year-old home care worker in Fairfield, Conn., told The Washington Post.

 

All of these efforts, combined, are making a life-changing difference in American’s lives:

  • ACA2.jpgKristen Boe of Estherville, Iowa, a stay-at-home mother in her 20s who has benefited from being able to stay on her father’s plan until age 26 then get a marketplace plan after going for two years without insurance and without needed thyroid tests.
  • Sheri Hendrix of Grants Pass, Ore., got coverage under the Affordable Care Act after going without it for four years and that saved her from having to cover $30,000 in medical bills from a broken ankle after a fall.
  • ACA3.jpgJamal Lee of Baltimore, a small business owner who, before getting insured through the Affordable Care Act, traveled to another country to save costs on medical procedures.

SEIU nurses, doctors, child care providers and security officers are also celebrating that this is the year many of the healthcare laws widespread insurance protections — such as the end of denials for pre-existing conditions for adults — kicked in for our family, friends and neighbors.

We all benefit when insurance companies can no longer: deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions; charge women whatever they want, whenever they want to; and cut off coverage when people are in the middle of costly treatments.

Moving Forward:

Since Congress passed and President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law just over four years ago, SEIU has played a significant role in bringing good healthcare coverage to not only the 7 million people who have signed up through marketplaces, but also to the millions of young adults up to age 26 on their parents plans, and millions more low-income working people receiving coverage through Medicaid.

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SEIU’s partnership work together with the Latino Engagement Fund, the Black Civic Engagement Fund and Out2Enroll has resulted in coordinated outreach efforts by 28 organizations in 17 key counties of four states (TX, FL, PA, MI) where the highest numbers of uninsured people live.

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, extremist Republicans have spent hundreds of millions of dollars attacking the healthcare law - and refusing its expanded Medicaid coverage to 5 million people – instead of helping their own uninsured constituents find ways to get coverage. They wasted time and energy voting over 50 times to repeal, gut or dismantle the law at the expense of priorities crucial to working people: proposals to help the long-term unemployed, raise the minimum wage and pass commonsense immigration reform.

Polling consistently shows that most Americans reject the GOP’s obsession with plans to repeal the healthcare law and go back to the days when insurance companies called all the shots. A recent Bloomberg poll found that 64 percent of Americans either support the law as it is or back it with small changes.

SEIU members, like most Americans, know the healthcare law isn’t perfect and we want a few things about it to be improved. But we’ll oppose every effort to turn the clock back on people with pre-existing conditions and people who are getting preventive care coverage – such as birth control and mammograms – for the first time in their lives.

That’s the choice many voters will have in November: between candidates who would take us back to the days when insurance companies could cancel your coverage on a whim and candidates who will make sure that a law that is working for millions of Americans will work even better for us.

Republicans at many levels are running to repeal the law. But this year is much different – for the first time they are running to take away benefits that virtually every American who has health care is benefiting from.

“I wasn’t really political” before starting work on enrollment, SEIU member Dee Lila Peterson, told The Washington Post. A certified nursing assistant at a Doylestown, Penn., nursing home, Peterson plans to encourage Democrats to vote in November.

SEIU members know this is the year for all of us to instead deliver on the promise of the Affordable Care Act, make sure it is working for as many people as possible and expand the landmark protections it provides.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on April 2, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Diane Minor

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Maryland To Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 an Hour—But Only After Foot-Dragging From Some Dems

April 8th, 2014 | Bruce Vail

Bruce VailMaryland is on the verge of becoming the second state, after Connecticut, to heed President Barack Obama’s call for a new national minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Lawmakers moved in a special weekend session to pass a measure hiking the state’s minimum to $10.10 an hour, up sharply from the current minimum of $7.25. The Maryland Senate passed the bill on April 5, and the House of Delegates gave its approval around midday on April 7, just hours before the year’s legislative session ended.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign the bill into law promptly. In January, he called the wage hike his top legislative priority for the year.

The victory for low-wage workers, however, has left some progressive groups frustrated and a little angry. The reason? They say the most potent attempts to kill, dilute or delay the bill came from Democratic Party legislators who publicly proclaim their support for the working poor, yet worked behind the scenes to undermine the new minimum wage law. Democrats enjoy large majorities in both houses of the legislature.

“Maryland is a Democratic state, but not necessarily a progressive one,” says Pat Lippold, political director for hospital workers union 1199SEIU, a division of the Service Employees International Union, which helped push for the bill.

“We didn’t expect any support from the Republicans—and we didn’t get any. But every effort to weaken [the original wage proposal] came from Democrats. Our work became beating back Democrats,” says Charly Carter, Executive Director of Maryland Working Families, an arm of the New York-based Working Families Organization. Working Families started a coalition two years ago called Raise Maryland to advocate for the minimum wage boost. Labor unions such as 1199SEIU, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 form the backbone of the coalition, along with units of the NAACP and citizen advocacy groups such as Casa de MarylandProgressive Maryland and the National Employment Law Project. The coalition ultimately attracted about 60 groups including faith-based organizations and even Democratic Party youth groups.

Any lingering anger at conservative Democrats is due to the fact that they were partly successful in watering down the law, although some of the worst suggestions were ultimately rejected. The original proposal, for example, called for the minimum wage to be raised in several steps until it reached $10.10 in 2016. But amendments proposed and supported by Democrats stretched out the phase-in an additional two years, to July 1, 2018. Worse, Democrats killed the part of the original bill that would provide annual cost-of-living adjustments to the future minimum wage, a key element in preventing the erosion of earning power by low-income workers.

And that’s not all. Raise Maryland was keen to include raises for tipped workers, who are currently only required to be paid $3.63 an hour under state law. (Critics have pointed out that the law assumes that tips will make up the rest, but that is not always true in practice.) The House of Delegates declined to do so and froze the tipped wage at the current level for the next four years. The legislators explicitly rejected a more progressive measure, advocated by Gov. O’Malley, to set the tipped wage at 70 percent of the state minimum, which would have allowed the two to rise together.

“I have three words to sum up the amendments that were offered by the conservative Democrats: shocking, unnecessary and counterproductive,” comments Carter. The cost-of-living-adjustment was a key progressive goal, yet was shot down early in the legislative process, she noted. And, Carter says, the more progressive tipped wage provision “should have been mother’s milk to any real Democrat.”

Adding insult to injury, the Maryland legislators also engaged in a public spectacle of special pleading for amusement park owners, Carter and Lippold both relate. Known as the “Six Flags Amendment,” the provision put forward by Democrats would have exempted the owners of the Six Flags America amusement park in Upper Marlboro, Md., from the new minimum wage law. When the exemption gained quick support in the legislature, other amusements operators jumped on the bandwagon and convinced legislators on both sides of the aisle to load up the bill with additional exemptions, Carter says. House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (D), who is counted a strong supporter of a more progressive law, was ultimately forced to intervene behind the scenes and put a stop to the amendments, she says. Even so, the final legislation allows Six Flags its own minimum wage, set at 85 percent of the statewide figure.

“What’s amazing is that when you poll the public on the minimum wage, the [pro-increase] numbers are just off the charts,” Lippold adds. “So there is almost no downside,” for legislators to support a higher minimum, she says. “But the devil is in the details,” and skilled lobbyists for restaurant interests and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce are able to exert outsized influence, Lippold says.

The experience of lobbying to raise the minimum wage has solidified the commitment of the Working Families Organization to establish a permanent base in the state and to become more involved in electoral campaigns, particularly at the Democratic Party primary level, Carter says. “Some of these so-called ‘moderate’ Democrats need to be challenged and held accountable,” she says. Formal announcement of the new Maryland unit should be forthcoming within a month, she tells Working In These Times. The Raise Maryland coalition will also remain intact and look for other ways to advance pro-worker legislation, especially a new effort to guarantee paid sick days to all workers in the state, she says.

Nearly a half million Maryland workers are expected to benefit from the minimum wage increase, with the first raise, to $8.00 an hour, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2015.

Full discosure: AFSCME is a sponsor of In These Times. Sponsors have no role in editorial content.

This article was originally printed in Working In These Times on April 7, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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Avoiding NAFTA’s Job-Killing Mistakes

March 31st, 2014 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallThe North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turns 20 this year. Some 700,000 jobs have been lost, income inequality, the U.S. trade deficit and environmental and other problems have grown because of NAFTA in the past two decades. On Thursday, a panel of trade experts will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on NAFTA’s failed trade model and how to avoid the mistakes of the past in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The 11 a.m. meeting in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room 201, is open to congressional staffers. If you wish to attend but don’t have a congressional ID, you may RSVP to Andrew.linhardt@sierraclub.org.

The briefing is sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the Institute for Policy Studies, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and the Sierra Club.

Read “NAFTA at 20” here.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on March 31, 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.

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GOP Pitch to Women: Forget Equal Pay, Let's Talk About Repealing Obamacare

March 31st, 2014 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonHeading into the 2014 elections, the Republican position on women’s votes and women’s issues is nothing so much as incoherent. They’re defensive about their poor record, so they want to rebut it, but they mostly seem to do so by dismissing every specific issue as a distraction from the real issues. When you get right down to it, the Republican position appears to be ”we’re not worried about no stinkin’ women’s issues because OBAMACARE. And we really do care about women’s issues … like OBAMACARE. And besides, we’re not really running as women, but you may want to vote for some of us because we are women.”

For instance, Joni Ernst, a Senate candidate in Iowa, leads her bio with “Mother. Soldier. Conservative for U.S. Senate.” The word “mother” is all over her website. But she says she’s not running on gender:

“It would be historical, but it’s not part of my pitch,” she said of potentially becoming Iowa’s first female senator. “I don’t believe we should vote for somebody based on gender, we vote for the right person and I’m the right person to go to Washington, D.C.”“Of course I’m always very diplomatic in the way that I attack any issue and I think that’s appealing to women. Be straight-forward about [issues], but be compassionate, show them that this is something that really matters to Iowans, not just female but also males,” she said.

It would make history, but I’m not running as a woman, and I’m super diplomatic like a woman, but I’m not running as a woman, and I’m compassionate like a woman, but I’m not running as a woman, and did I mention I’m a mother, but I’m definitely not running as a woman.

So what about equal pay, an issue that women care about? Forget that, Republicans say, because Obamacare:

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said reminding both genders of the problems with the Affordable Care Act would trump Democratic attacks on the equal pay issue.“Republicans recognize that this is also the Democratic party’s latest attempt to cry ‘squirrel!’ so women in this country, who control two out of every three health care dollars that are spent and are disproportionately health care consumers and providers… divert their attention from the unspooling of Obamacare,” Conway said.

Ah, yes, the unspooling of more than six million private insurance enrollments, plus themillions covered by Medicaid expansion, plus young people who’ve been able to stay on their parents’ insurance. I think unspooling is what Republican arguments against the law have done. And how’s this as an argument for ignoring equal pay concerns? “Listen, ladies, we know you don’t want to be distracted by a little thing like equal pay. Let us explain how we’d like to take away your affordable health care.”

In the end, this may be one of the greatest (and admittedly one of the few) examples of Republican commitment to equal opportunity. For women, just as for men, their answer to everything is “repeal Obamacare.”

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on March 31, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

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For Women, Being in a Union Pays

March 31st, 2014 | SEIU

seiu-org-logoThis Women’s History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce–especially when it comes to labor unions.

Women have a great deal to gain from joining a union, with union victories working to pave the way for workers to bargain for affordable family healthcare, fair wages, improved working conditions, and a better life for their families.

Share this graphic on Facebook to tell the world why a woman’s place is in her union.

There are so many reasons women benefit so much from the union advantage:

Being in a union is good for a woman’s health.
When it comes to both fiscal and physical health, being in a union is the way to go. Unionization dramatically raises the probability of a woman having a pension (53.4 percent) and an employer-provided health insurance plan (36.8 percent).

Unions have been a powerful force for women’s equality.
Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women–and importantly, women of color–get a fair chance at work. Unionized women of color, for example, earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

Unionization results in significantly higher wages for women of all education levels.
Being a member of a union raises women’s wages by 12.9 percent compared to their nonunion peers. That’s a pay increase of $222 a week–which adds up to $11,544 a year.

Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender. 
In a country where it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34, having a union can make all the difference.

Unions help close the wage gap.
Despite the fact the gender wage gap overall hasn’t made any progress in the last five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 percent between 2013 and 2012. The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 percent, compared to 18.7 percent among nonunion workers.

Considering the great boost to equality, pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

So spread the word. While we can’t change the world in a day, speaking out about this important issue is a good start.

Celebrate being union strong this Women’s History Month. Share this graphic with your family and friends on Facebook:

20140314-Final-WomensHisotryFBgraphic.png

And never forget why a woman’s place is in her union.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

This Women’s History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce–especially when it comes to labor unions.

Women have a great deal to gain from joining a union, with union victories working to pave the way for workers to bargain for affordable family healthcare, fair wages, improved working conditions, and a better life for their families.

Share this graphic on Facebook to tell the world why a woman’s place is in her union.

There are so many reasons women benefit so much from the union advantage:

Being in a union is good for a woman’s health.
When it comes to both fiscal and physical health, being in a union is the way to go. Unionization dramatically raises the probability of a woman having a pension (53.4 percent) and an employer-provided health insurance plan (36.8 percent).

Unions have been a powerful force for women’s equality.
Collective bargaining cuts down on employer favoritism, which helps women–and importantly, women of color–get a fair chance at work. Unionized women of color, for example, earn almost 35 percent more than nonunion women of color.

Unionization results in significantly higher wages for women of all education levels.
Being a member of a union raises women’s wages by 12.9 percent compared to their nonunion peers. That’s a pay increase of $222 a week–which adds up to $11,544 a year.

Unions protect workers’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender. 
In a country where it’s still legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34, having a union can make all the difference.

Unions help close the wage gap.
Despite the fact the gender wage gap overall hasn’t made any progress in the last five years, it’s been shrinking among workers who belong to a union, declining 2.6 percent between 2013 and 2012. The gender gap between what unionized male workers make and what unionized female workers make is just 9.4 percent, compared to 18.7 percent among nonunion workers.

Considering the great boost to equality, pay and benefits that unions bring, it’s important that anyone who cares about the well-being of women workers also care about unions.

So spread the word. While we can’t change the world in a day, speaking out about this important issue is a good start.

Celebrate being union strong this Women’s History Month. Share this graphic with your family and friends on Facebook:

20140314-Final-WomensHisotryFBgraphic.png

And never forget why a woman’s place is in her union.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on March 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

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Is Perelman Jewish Day School the Hobby Lobby of Union-Busting?

March 31st, 2014 | Bruce Vail

Bruce VailA small group of teachers in Philadelphia are finding their union rights under attack on questionable religious grounds, much the same way that women across America found their right to healthcare assaulted this week in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case.

Some 55 teachers at the Perelman Jewish Day School, which has two K-5 campuses in the Philadelphia suburbs with some 300 total students, were stunned March 24 to be notified that the school’s board had decided to cease recognizing their union. The teachers were told that the current union contract will be allowed to expire and they will be required to negotiate individual one-year contracts with school administrators. Normally, revoking union recognition would be considered a blatant violation of collective bargaining law. But board vice president Aaron Freiwald says the action is justified by a Supreme Court decision. The case he’s likely referring to is the obscure 1979 NLRB v. Catholic Bishops of Chicago, in which the Supreme Court found that religious schools are exempt from certain provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.

The teachers, some of whom are observant Jews themselves, are not going to meekly allow their union to be dissolved, says Barbara Goodman, the communications director for the AFT Pennsylvania, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the union with which the Perelman Jewish Day School Faculty Association Local 3578 is affiliated.

Members held an emergency meeting March 27, Goodman says, and unanimously passed a resolution to fight for their union. It read:

We categorically reject the terms and conditions in the materials that were handed to us, and we authorize all of our local, state and national officers to pursue all legal means to have this action reversed and to return to the bargaining table, where we can negotiate in good faith a contract that is good for the students and the teachers.

Equally offended by the board action is Jesse Bacon, whose daughter is a student at the exclusive private school, where tuitioncan be as high as $20,000 a year. Bacon tells In These Times that he’s firmly on the side of the teachers and regards any claim to religious legitimacy for the board’s high-handed action as bogus and offensive. “This is just rank hypocrisy. … It makes my blood boil,” he says.

Hypocritical or not, the teachers just may have a real legal fight on their hands, says Dan Kovalik, who is on the legal staff at the Pittsburgh headquarters of the United Steelworkers (USW). The little-known Catholic Bishops decision does allow religious schools to claim exemption from the NLRA, he says, although it is not clear that it would apply to the Perelman school. The USW is fighting a Catholic Bishops case right now, he adds, as the union attempts to organize the part-time faculty at the Duquesne University, a Catholic school in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. And there are a number of other cases where religious schools have successfully used the Catholic Bishops defense to fend of unionization of the faculty, he says. Indeed, labor lawyers are closely watching a National Labor Relations Board decision right now in a case involving Pacific Lutheran University, which may clarify the law.

The claim of religious exemption doesn’t mean much to the AFT’S Goodman. “Perelman School has been unionized for 38 years. I’m Jewish myself and I can tell you for sure that nothing about Judaism has changed in the last week to justify” attacking the teachers union, she says.

Nor does it hold much water with Bacon. He tells In These Times that his great-grandmother became a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union while a seamstress in New York City a century ago. There is a proud tradition in his family of progressive Jewish unionism —some were lifetime members of the socialist-leaning organization Workman’s Circle—and any attempt to justify union-busting with Judaism is offensive, he says. He also notes that the board at the Perelman school chose to move against the union on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the tragedy that helped catalyze the unionization of Jewish workers in New York’s garment district.

Pennsylvania AFT President Ted Kirsch said the full resources of the union are being marshaled to defend the teachers. “You wouldn’t believe the calls I’ve gotten from around the country. This is just so against the Jewish tradition that people can’t believe Perelman is trying to get away this this,” he says.

Freiwald, a Philadelphia lawyer, turned down requests from In These Times for a phone interview but invited queries by email. He declined to answer most of the e-mailed questions, but did however identify himself as the chairman of a special board task force that recommended the vote against the union and stated that the vote was unanimous. He provided a press release and aprepared FAQ sheet [PDF] as the school’s only public comment.

This matter exploded the same week that the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, in which an employer argued that his religious convictions against birth control trumped the healthcare rights of his workers. Bacon sees a clear parallel between the two: “That seems like phony religion to me. So does this.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on March 28, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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Minimum Wage Victory Celebrated on the New Jersey Senate Floor

March 31st, 2014 | Jackie Tortora

Jackie TortoraThe New Jersey State AFL-CIO this week celebrated a milestone in its campaign to raise the state minimum wage by joining partners and advocates from across the Garden State in a recognition ceremony held in the Senate.

At the opening of the Senate session, Senate President Stephen Sweeney presented the New Jersey State AFL-CIO coalition partners of Working Families United for New Jersey Inc. (WFUNJ) with a resolution in recognition of the work that went into passing the state constitutional amendment by a landslide margin.

Charles Wowkanech, New Jersey federation president, and state federation Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan said in a message to campaign supporters:

The minimum wage campaign proved that when all our communities come together on the right side of an issue, we win.

Despite being outspent by our opponents, we showed that grassroots strength and community engagement and involvement will achieve tremendous success at the ballot box. WFUNJ turned people who thought raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do into voters who said it loud and clear in the voting booth.

All of us who are proud to be part of this coalition are deeply honored by this recognition today.

Read more about the New Jersey State AFL-CIO’s minimum wage victory.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on March 28, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

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