Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Jewish and Labor Leaders Flock To Defend Teachers at Perelman Jewish Day School

April 18th, 2014 | Bruce Vail

Bruce VailOn the eve of the Jewish high holy days of Passover, union leaders and Jewish labor activists in Philadelphia and beyond are ramping up efforts to defeat a plan by one of the area’s small private religious schools to bust its teachers union. Both groups are outraged at the school’s implicit claim that there’s a conflict between Judaism and workers’ rights.

The issue erupted late last month when the board of the Perelman Jewish Day School notified the school’s roughly 60 teachers that it would no longer negotiate with their long-established labor union. Instead, the board proclaimed, each teacher must make individual arrangements with the school administrators for the conditions of future employment. The union busting was justified, thePerelman teachers were told, as a measure to advance the religious objectives of the K-5 school, and was legally supported by court rulings reaching all the way to the Supreme Court. The school was likely referring to the high court’s 1979 ruling in NLRB v Catholic Bishop of Chicago that religious schools were exempt from some labor law.

“Everybody feels that we were disrespected, and undermined” by the school board decision, says Lisa Richman, president of the Perelman Jewish Day School Faculty Association Local 3578, a unit of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “Everybody [on the faculty] is petrified, or scared, or angry,” she says.

But the fight back is now officially underway. Last week, teacher representatives filed an unfair labor practice charge against Perelman at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), says Barbara Goodman, communications director for the statewide umbrella union AFT Pennsylvania. The charge asserts that Perelman broke the law “when it threatened employees, telling the teachers they would be without jobs in September if they did not waive their rights” under the National Labor Relations Act “and accept the board’s withdrawal of union recognition,” according to an AFT statement.

And Perelman was also wrong in denying the union the right to represent its members, the union charges. The Perelman board “violated federal labor law further when it offered teachers jobs for next school year without negotiating or consulting with the union; when it refused to negotiate with the union; and when it denied union members representation by their AFT Pennsylvania staff representatives during meetings where the board discussed terms of employment with teachers,”the  AFT says.

The case has galvanized the AFT’s 1.5 million-member national organization. AFT President Randi Weingarten issued a statement April 10:

As a Jew who grew up in the Conservative movement and a union leader, I’m appalled at what has transpired at the Perelman Jewish Day School. Management has taken it upon itself to strip the educators of their voice and their union, in direct violation of core tenets of our faith honoring the treatment of our workers and our teachers. The rights to association and to organize are fundamental to a just and democratic society. What message does it send to our students and their parents when a Jewish day school violates these precepts by destroying a union that’s been in place for four decades?

No doubt the Perelman school will assemble its students for a Passover seder to tell the communal story of the journey from oppression and slavery in Egypt to liberation. I call on the Perelman school to change its own Passover story and, instead of oppressing its teachers, to reverse its decision to strip teachers of their union.

Weingarten’s statement was met with enthusiasm at a Pennsylvania AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh April 10, Goodman reports. The convention delegates unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Perelman teachers.

Weingarten’s references to her Jewish heritage resonate deeply in this labor fight, says Lynne Fox, Chairwoman of thePhiladelphia Jewish Labor Committee (JLC). The Jewish community in the area has been shocked by the events at Perelman, she says, and there is strong support for the teachers union.

The JLC issued a statement in support of the teachers:

The Philadelphia JLC stands firmly with the teachers and their union as they fight for their collective bargaining rights, and also in alignment with tenets of Conservative Judaism.

By dismantling the union and denying employees the power of collective bargaining, the Perelman Jewish Day School is acting in opposition both to major halakhic authorities and to the official position of the Conservative Movement.

Less formally, Fox comments, “It’s difficult to wrap your head around this whole thing. The Perelman board took all the steps against the union in secret, yet it says that it is was done for the benefit of the students. If the goal is to benefit the students, why wouldn’t you do this in the open, so the parents and teachers could be part of the discussion?”

Fox says that Jewish labor activists from around the country have been rallying to the side of the Perelman teachers. She says that these activists have all echoed the sentiment expressed in the Philadelphia JLC’s statement: “Jewish tradition has been clear and consistent – the treatment of workers and their right to organize are among the basic underpinnings of a just society.”

Attempts by Working In These Times to reach Perelman board vice president Aaron Freiwald for comment were unsuccessful. Freiwald, of the Philadelphia law firm Layser & Freiwaldhas identified himself as one of the authors of the plan to eliminate the union at school.

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on April 14, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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AFL-CIO Stands with NFL Cheerleader and Oakland Raiderette Lacy T.

April 18th, 2014 | Jackie Tortora

Jackie TortoraCheerleading for professional sports is more than sporting sparkly midriff-baring tops, white cowboy boots and zipping off to calendar shoots…it’s a job. And it’s demanding.

Between mandatory practices, public appearances, strict image guidelines that require lots of money for upkeep and performing at the games, it’s a lot of hard work.

Generally people are paid for the work they do in a formal employment relationship. But unfortunately, that’s not a reality for NFL cheerleaders. Because it’s a “love what you do” kind of job, many of these women are taken advantage of in the form of wage theft. And Lacy T., an Oakland Raiderette, took a very strong stand against wage theft earlier this year when she filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders.

According to ESPN, the lawsuit alleged that the Raiders failed to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage for all hours worked, withheld pay until the end of the season, required cheerleaders to cover their own business expenses, don’t provide lunch breaks and impose fines for minor infractions—all of which, according to the suit, constitute violations of the California Labor Code.

ESPN writer Amanda Hess makes the case that even though the NFL is hugely profitable and football players, by coming together in their union, are able to collectively bargaining for better wages, cheerleaders are still seen as expendable.

Of the 26 teams that employ cheerleaders, only Seattle publicly advertises that it pays its squad an hourly minimum wage. The tenuous position of NFL cheerleaders is exacerbated by the fact that six teams don’t fork out any cash for squads.

We see it happening with Walmart workers. We see it happening with paid sick days. Women workers all over the country are linking arms and demanding better workplaces—and they’re winning.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler took notice of Lacy T.’s story and sent her a letter this week commending her courage:

I was very moved by your courage in standing up to some very powerful interests. It reminds me of the many union members we represent, especially women, who are lifting up their voices in workplaces all over the country, often against overwhelming odds. I believe your willingness to speak out will be a turning point toward a better future for other young women who want to take their skills and experience to the professional level.

In a statement, Lacy T. said:

I love being a Raiderette, but someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams….I hope cheerleaders across the NFL will step forward to join me in demanding respect and fair compensation.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 11, 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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Will Republicans Find Motivation on Minimum Wage after November?

April 17th, 2014 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonAs congressional Republicans stand in the way of a higher minimum wage, the New York Timeshighlights a pattern from the last three minimum wage increases:

But the story of recent increases underscores the indispensable ingredient [Obama] so far lacks: a Republican leader strongly motivated to make a deal over the party’s philosophical objections. [...]The common thread of the last three wage increases is a president of one party forging agreement with a Congress controlled by the other. “Our system works best” for bipartisan compromise with that alignment, Mr. Fratto said.

That was true in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush cut a deal with a Congress controlled by Democrats; in 1996, when congressional Republicans came out of a government shutdown as the losers, needing to do something to regain momentum; and in 2007, when President George W. Bush suddenly found himself facing a Democratic Congress and terrible approval ratings. In those cases, the Republicans decided it was in their best interests to cut a deal and get something done.

So, this story implies, maybe if Republicans keep the House and take the Senate this November, they’ll decide it’s in their political interest to raise the minimum wage. The problem is, you don’t need to be romanticizing the Republicans of 20 or 30 years ago to believe that the extremists of today are likely to be a different story.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on April 11, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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The Paul Ryan Budget - Déjà vu All Over Again

April 17th, 2014 | SEIU

seiu-org-logoThe House of Representatives today passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal year (FY) budget resolution. Introduced last week (on April Fool’s Day), the Ryan budget is as extreme as the proposals he offered last year and the year before.

As in previous budgets, Ryan seeks to cut the deficit on the backs of the elderly, low-income and vulnerable Americans, while the wealthy and corporations are once again exempt from paying their fair share.

Unsurprisingly, low-income and vulnerable Americans do not fare well in Rep. Ryan’s budget.

Among the $5.1 trillion in cuts he proposes are reducing funding for and block-granting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, at a time when there is record poverty. Cuts to SNAP would end benefits to some 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 alone.

The Ryan budget proposes to end Medicaid as we know it and instead provide fixed block grants to states. This would destroy the historic state-federal relationship underlying this safety net program and shift huge costs to the states.

The budget proposal also cuts Medicare. For people younger than 55, the budget would privatize Medicare by converting it to a system under which those who are enrolled in Medicare would receive a capped voucher to purchase private insurance in a specialized Medicare marketplace. This would mean less care and higher costs for millions of Americans.

As for the wealthy and corporations, they do quite well in this proposal, lowering the top income tax rate for the very rich from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. These tax cuts would cost about $5 trillion over ten years. Ryan suggests that these tax breaks will be offset by closing loopholes, but the budget does not name a single loophole that he’d eliminate.

To top it off, the Ryan budget would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the Ryan budget resolution would, on net, result in 1.1 million jobs lost in FY 2015 and 3 million jobs lost in FY 2016. If the economy remains sluggish at that point, large job losses could continue into FY 2017 and beyond.

Budgets are not just a bunch of numbers on papers. They are blueprints that reflect our priorities and our values. Rep. Ryan’s budget does not reflect the priorities or values that most Americans hold dear. It’s important that we all know exactly where Rep. Ryan’s priorities and values lie. Sadly, his budget proposal tells us just that.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on April 10, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU Communications

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How 250 UPS Workers Fired for a Wildcat Strike Won Back Their Jobs

April 17th, 2014 | Sarah Jaffe

sarah jaffeTwo hundred and fifty UPS drivers, clad in their brown uniforms, rallying in a Queens parking lot, must have been quite a sight. Not very many people got to see it, however. The 90-minute work stoppage outside the Maspeth, Queens, UPS facility on February 26 was a spontaneous protest against the firing, allegedly without due process, of one of their colleagues, Jairo Reyes.

On March 26, UPS retaliated by beginning to give all 250 notices that they’d be terminated—but the company did not fire the workers all at once. According to the Teamsters, UPS fired 20 drivers on March 31 and kept the rest waiting for the axe to fall while their replacements were trained.

Nearly two months later, all 250, including Reyes, will be headed back to work, their terminations reduced to ten-day suspensions. Driver Steven Curcio, who says he was one of the first to be fired, credits the support of the community, elected officials and particularly his own customers.

Tim Sylvester, president of Teamsters Local 804, the union that represents the Queens drivers, said, “The drivers delivered their message to UPS about unfair treatment. Now every one of them will be back delivering packages.”

The saga began on Valentine’s Day, when Reyes was told he was fired for clocking in early. His delivery route takes him to a mall in Queens, and he’d been regularly clocking in early—with permission, he says—to get there in time to park at one of the few delivery bays and drop his packages

Under Local 804′s contract with UPS, drivers have an “innocent until proven guilty” clause stipulating that they can’t be taken off the job until they have a hearing, but Reyes was escorted off the job on the 14th.  When he finally received a hearing on February 26, according to the union, he was officially fired for dishonesty.

Curcio says that after the hearing, the union representative in attendance came through the building and gathered the workers outside to explain to them what had happened. That briefing became a rally and work stoppage—a wildcat action that kept the drivers in the parking lot for about 90 minutes before returning to deliver their packages.

Though their contract also stipulates that the drivers have a right to strike if the company does not “abide by the procedure prescribed for the settlement of disputes and differences,” UPS issued termination notices to all 250 drivers. A spokesperson for the company said that they were being let go because of the “seriousness of [their] misconduct.”

The drivers continued to work for weeks, according to Curcio, amidst rumors and speculation—no one seemed to know for sure when the axe would fall. Then one night at the end of their shift, he says, “all of the higher ups of UPS” showed up. Then, he says, management chose 20 drivers, seemingly at random, to fire that day. Curcio was one of them.

“Whether you’d worked there one year or 30 years, we were all considered in that same boat,” says the 19-year UPS veteran. “My first thought was, ‘How are we going to fix this problem?’ ”

The union had been organizing to bring UPS to the table from the date of the first incident. Local 804 began with internal mobilization, activating networks of union members that had recently been used for contract negotiations to circulate information and a petition of support for the fired drivers. Then they reached out to the Working Families Party, of which the Teamsters’ regional body is a member, and the WFP put out a petition to the public on MoveOn.org’s petition site asking for the drivers to be reinstated. The  petitions circulated by drivers and the WFP had a total of more than 100,000 signatures when they were delivered to UPS at a rally on March 21 at the UPS facility in Queens, led by Public Advocate Letitia James, a longtime Working Families Party ally.

“Hundreds of thousands of supporters rushed to the defense of the 250 workers and their families with petition signatures, social media actions, and phone calls that we were proud to help the Teamsters organize,” says the WFP’s Bill Lipton.

James didn’t just show up at a rally or two. She promised that if UPS didn’t come to the table and negotiate with the workers, the company’s tax breaks, business with the city, and even a “sweetheart parking-ticket program” that lets the company pay a fraction of the price of its parking tickets might be up for scrutiny. Comptroller Scott Stringer also spoke up for the workers, as did many members of the City Council, at a second rally and press conference at City Hall April 3, after the twenty workers were fired. Other unions came out in support as well: Transport Workers Union Local 100 and SEIU 32BJ joined the rally.

UPS responded to the rally by firing another 17 random workers the next day.

The tide turned, though, when Curcio and other fired drivers began to visit their former customers to explain the situation and ask for their support, challenging the company’s line that “we owe it to our customers” to fire the drivers.

“Some of the businesses that we deliver to, I’ve personally delivered to them for 13 years,” he says. “Some may say ‘You know my facilities better than I do.’ I know that girl in their office is on vacation or that gentleman isn’t going to be there but his cousin may live down the block. I know where to bring my stuff, I know where to go, where not to go. I know these people, I see them, especially businesses, I see them four to five times a week.”

Curcio was heartened by the reaction from the customers. They wanted to know why he’d been fired, and were happy to show their support for him and his union. He and other drivers took photos and shot a video of their customers calling for their drivers back.

The outpouring of support from customers seemed to take away the last angle UPS had to defend its crackdown on the workers. The company came to the table to negotiate with the union and agreed to a deal that would reinstate all the drivers—including Reyes—and change their terminations to ten-day suspensions. Curcio had already served most of that time; others will take their suspensions on a rolling basis.

The workers are calling this a win, and it’s worth noting that it’s a win that came through the willingness of 250 people to risk their own jobs to stand up to the boss and to save the job of one of their colleagues. But the wildcat action had to be backed up with organizing both inside the union and within the community (and sympathetic elected officials who owe their positions to union support certainly didn’t hurt, either). It can require quite a lot of pressure to bring a massive company like UPS to the table, but the workers succeeded. The WFP’s Lipton says, “When workers stand together in solidarity they can still win against one of the biggest corporations in America.”

It’s also worth noting that this was a workplace that already had a union contract with strong protections for workers against summary firings. Just getting the contract is only the first step; enforcing that contract requires attention and action on the part of the workers. Organizing isn’t over when the contract is ratified—in many ways, it is only beginning. The UPS workers remind us that workplace rights have always been won and held through struggle.

Curcio expects treatment will be a little bit better at the Maspeth facility from now on. “I think everyone involved learned something from this,” he says. “Teamwork usually always prevails in whatever it is in life.”

For now, he’s looking forward to getting back to work. “I can’t wait to get back in my little brown truck and do what I normally do on a daily basis. Go see customers, deliver, do my pick ups and basically back to business as usual.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on April 14, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television.

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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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