Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for September, 2012

No, NFL Owners Didn’t ‘Lose’ The Lockout Battle With Referees

Friday, September 28th, 2012

There’s an idea floating around the internet today that the National Football League owners “lost” their labor dispute with the NFL Referees Association after the two sides reached a deal last night. The Big Lead’s Jason Lisk said as much in a post today, and others have made similar arguments.

That might be an easy belief to hold, given negotiations got serious as a result of the public relations nightmare that was this week’s Monday Night Football game, when a blown call cost the Green Bay Packers a game. From where I’m sitting, though, that view couldn’t be more wrong.

When the lockout began, the owners had three major asks: they wanted to eliminate the pension benefits current officials receive, add full-time officials, and add a back-up pool of officials. More details will come out, but the deal they reached last night added a group of full-time officials and a back-up pool of officials and grandfathered in pension changes that will eliminate the current defined-benefit retirement program for all officials by 2016. The owners got basically everything they wanted, and somehow they lost?

I’m not seeing it.

If anything, this deal is more evidence of the power corporate interests hold in labor disputes. Laden with cash and able to wait, the NFL spent the offseason moving the NFLRA’s thin red line closer to what the owners wanted, to the point where the reasonable compromise was one that gave the league everything it wanted, if on a slightly slower timeline. That ensured that when fans firmly took a side, the league would still get its way. That power is shared by corporations in lower-profile battles, where companies are locking out workers to pay them less and eliminate pensions and benefits just because they can.

There’s only one loser in this, and it’s the American worker. Another pension is gone, and because the real refs are back on the football field, we’ll all forget about the nonsense and go back to watching the game as if none of this never happened. For a measly $60 million, the owners could have shored up the pensions of employees who make a $9 billion league work. Instead, they ruined three weeks of football to save less than a penny on the dollar, and their reward was to get everything they asked for. And this will keep happening, in sports leagues and factories and workshops across America.

If that’s a “loss,” I’d hate to see what it looks like when they win.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on September 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

Women Who Edit Magazines Make $15,000 Less Than Men

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The latest numbers from Folio about who makes what in the world of magazine editing reaffirm what we already know: women make less money than men in comparable positions. Male editors-in-chief or editorial directors of magazines make $100,800 to women’s $85,100. For executive editors, men pull down $84,200 to women’s $65,700. And for senior editors, men make $63,600 to the $58,200 women take home in salary. What those numbers don’t tell us is how to start rectifying those pay gaps, which, as Folio editor Bill Mickey told The Atlantic Wire, start to seem inevitable: “We don’t have any further insight into that number, except that the gap has historically been about the same and I believe aligns with national trends across other industries.” We’ve collected data on gender and pay and gender and bylines for a long time. But if we want things to change, we need to start cross-referencing these numbers to see who’s doing worse, who’s doing better, and why.

Folio’s numbers, for example, break out pay not just by gender, but by whether the editors at business-to-business publications, consumer magazines, and trade publications, where they are geographically, by size of publication, and by years in the business. Looking at the numbers by gender alone are discouraging—they make it look like everyone is doing badly. But if we started cross-referencing those numbers, we might be able to see if some kinds of publications do better than others. Are women able to get a leg up in business-to-business magazines? Are the numbers skewed by bigger-than-normal pay gaps in New York, the center of the magazine industry? Are the numbers closer to parity in entry-level positions, indicating that time is doing the work to change a culture of pay inequality that magazines previously haven’t done?

These are the same kinds of questions that it would be useful to apply in film and television as well, where there is much less comprehensive salary data in any case. Knowing if women do better in dramas or comedies, in shows or films produced by different studios or airing on different networks or distributed by different companies would help us figure out who’s doing exceptionally poorly, and who’s made strides.

Until we figure out who’s doing better and who’s doing worse, we won’t be able to start asking questions about the specific cultures and practices that produce pay gaps and those that are proving successful at closing them. There are challenges, to that, of course, most significant that these surveys survive on some kind of anonymity. The organizations and individuals who are doing poorly would never want to be exposed as being so. And even organizations that do better may be hesitant to step forward to talk about their practices, for risk of exposing themselves to scrutiny for the work that still remains, and to questions from their own employees about whatever gaps persist. The fact that we lack information about salaries is intentional, and always to the benefit of companies that pay those salaries. Without accurate, cross-referenced data, it’s difficult for individuals to know if they’re being paid fairly and to negotiate if they’re not. And without those numbers, it’s impossible for us to identify industry-wide best practices, either. Numbers like these are an opening step in a road towards actual, useful transparency, rather than the end of it.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on September 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American Prospect, The New Republic, National Journal, and The Daily Beast.

Australia Seeks to ‘Manage’ the Poor While Making Them Poorer

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

When Mitt Romney derides the legions of Americans who are supposedly utterly dependent on government and are ruining the country’s entrepreneurial spirit, we should remember that while this disdain for the poor may have a uniquely American inflection, the greed-is-good ethos flourishes in other rich nations. In the land down under, we see a mirror image of the political establishment’s frontal assault on poor communities, with welfare policy acting as a cudgel for blaming the epidemic of poverty on the poor themselves.

The Australian government has been tightening its grip on welfare benefits through the Income Management program, which essentially dictates how the poor should spend their benefits. Participants may have about 50 to 70 percent of their money placed under state control, reserved for essential items like food.
Like welfare reform in the United States, this is retrofitted paternalism: participants must spend the “quarantined” money using a “Basics Card” at government-approved outlets. The rationale is that too many poor people would squander money on gambling, drinking, pornography and other unproductive things when given a chance.

The program was first piloted in destitute aboriginal communities that had become notorious for cases of family crisis and child abuse. Income Management is now spreading to several new areas, according to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), with enrollment based on “referral from child protection authorities” and referrals from social workers “on the grounds of ‘vulnerability.’ ” The targeting of these already stigmatized groups–indigenous people, parents in troubled homes, and others deemed financially incompetent–reflects the myth that poverty is cultural and not the result of oppressive structures.

A recent announcement on the introduction of Income Management in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in southern Australia suggests that some communities are eager to comply: “APY Lands residents told us income management would help them better manage their money and help stop humbugging, ensuring there is enough money for life essentials, such as food, housing and clothing.”

To opponents of the program, the main problem facing poor people isn’t their bad self-management, but the faillure of the social service system to provide adequate economic supports for “life essentials.” Adding to the attack on vulnerable families, Income Management has been rolled out with another strict “intervention”: the threat of suspending certain welfare benefits for parents “whose children are not enrolled or regularly attending school,” thus further punishing poor parents and their children.

A coalition of community-based service providers and advocacy organizations has dismissed Income Management as both discriminatory and needlessly punitive. To progressive anti-poverty advocates, Income Management threatens to infantilize people who want self-sufficiency but are hindered by structural economic hardships. Pam Batkin, head of Woodville Community Services, tells Working In These Times via email that the program:

is a simplistic response to very, very complex social problems. People may be unemployed due to lack of education and skills or they may have a disability. Quarantining their welfare payments if they are behind in their rent will not assist them to find a job. Indeed it may make life more difficult for people. Addictions to alcohol, illegal drugs or gambling are complex social issues which cannot be addressed by simply quarantining a person’s welfare payments.

In a statement of opposition issued last fall, Paddy Gibson of Sydney’s Stop the Intervention Collective said the program was “built on racist assumptions that Aboriginal people are incapable of managing their lives; it imposes harsh control measures rather than creating opportunities.”

A policy analysis by ACOSS points to “a lack of evidence that the groups targeted were unable to manage their financial affairs.” Even Parliament’s own assessment admits this in part.

Activists in indigenous communities have condemned recent welfare legislation as an affront to community sovereignty and economic rights. Following the passage of the so-called “Stronger Futures” bill in July, Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra, Yolngu Nations Assembly spokesperson, said in a statement, “By overruling the wishes of the people, the Government has declared a war on democracy.”

And now that the draconian model has been tested on indigenous people, the government is expanding it to new communities, though these “trials” will purportedly be made more palatable by encouraging voluntary, in addition to state-mandated, participation.

Randa Kattan of the Arab Council Australia, located in Bankstown, where the program has just been launched, likened Income Management to the harsh welfare reforms imposed in the United States during the 1990s, which were also designed to punitively push people off of benefits.

Australia, Kattan said, might “eventually… go down the road of the United States. The government wants to push people off the books, blame them for their situation, for things that are beyond their control.” For service providers, Income Management would damage community relations. “This is a system that will change our relationship and how we work with people. This system is about punishment and control. It’s very nasty.”

Another issue with the government’s scorched-earth welfare reform is the potential for waste. ACOSS argued that while “the program increases the cost to Government of social security payments for those assisted by one third to one half,” in the long-run, “the funds being invested in these programs could be more efficiently invested in initiatives to improve income support, employment assistance, housing, health, education and family services in poor communities.”

The neoliberal arithmetic of Income Management can only be understood in terms of a one-percent political calculus. In both the United States and Australia, privilege is faithfully served at the expense of the poor. Leaders of prosperous Western democracies might be expected to invest public resources more wisely, but then again, they refuse to take orders from anyone on how to spend their money.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

How Unions Help Build the American Dream

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Both Democrats and Republicans stress that the ability for people to move up the economic ladder to build better lives is at the heart of the American Dream. But new data from the Pew Center on the States pits the Republican tenet on economic mobility against another deeply held Republican belief that unions are a heavy and evil anchor on the economy that must be cut away.

Where there is a strong union movement, there is more economic mobility. If unions are strengthened, upward mobility will increase.

David Madland and Nick Bunker at the Center for American Progress Action Fund write in a new issue brief looking at the Pew figures:

Six of the eight most mobile states have high unionization rates—Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Utah, Massachusetts, Colorado and Maryland—and all but 1 of the 10 least mobile states—South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Georgia and Oklahoma—have low unionization rates and laws that discourage unionization.

The 10 states with the highest unionization rates—New York, Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Oregon—perform considerably better on a range of measures of mobility than the 10 states with the lowest levels of unionization.

What’s the connection between unions and greater opportunity for people to move up? Midland and Bunker outline several reasons:

First, unions help workers negotiate for higher and rising wages. Labor unions are particularly effective at boosting the wages and mobility of young, immigrant, low-wage and African American workers. Unions also push for increased job training and career ladders, which both help boost mobility over a lifetime.

It’s not just in the workplace where there is a union advantage. Labor unions, they note, help get ordinary citizens involved in politics to advocate for public policies that help boost mobility such as the minimum wage and investments in education. States with higher levels of unionization have more generous social safety nets that lift workers up, as well as cushion blows.

Mitt Romney’s plan to boost economic mobility and build a wider path to the middle class centers on cutting taxes for the wealthy—who have long passed through the middle class on their way to gated communities and private islands. But, say Madland and Bunker, the tight connection to unionization and upward mobility shows:

Policymakers that are concerned about boosting mobility and strengthening the middle class should add increasing the strength of organized labor to their list of policy solutions.

Read the full report “Unions Boost Economic Mobility in U.S. States or download the report.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on September 20, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

JOBS!

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The title of this post sounds great, doesn’t it? “JOBS!”

That is what I thought when I saw the headline on a Tea Partier’s facebook status; however, my initial excitement faded when I read the attached story (which appears to be a press release from Kohl’s that has not been modified by the AP):

MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis. (AP) — Kohl’s Department Stores says it plans to hire more than 52,000 holiday employees nationwide this season, up more than 10 percent from last year.

Kohl’s expects hiring an average of 41 employees per store. The Menomonee Falls department store chain has 1,146 stores in 49 states. Kohl’s will also hire about 5,700 seasonal employees for its distribution centers and credit operations unit.

The company says the 52,700 seasonal employees will work anywhere from a few hours to more than 20 hours per week. It plans to fill the jobs by mid-November. Typical jobs include cash register sales, stocking, freight processing and unloading trucks.

Seasonal temp jobs—that most likely do not pay anywhere close to a living wage. If you are hired as a cashier you would likely earn a little over $16k a year working at Kohl’s. As a seasonal temp employee you would not even earn that. You would earn around $8.00 an hour and maybe some commissions. Hardly what one would consider a “good job.”

But 52,000 new jobs … that sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Forty-one jobs per store. In Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, that amounts to 123 part-time jobs. Madison, over the last 20 years, has typically had an unemployment rate of between 2 and 3 percent and the rate is currently at 5.4 percent. Adding 123 part-time temp jobs is not going to impact the unemployment rate in Madison all that much.

The bottom line, not all jobs are created equal. We cannot get excited about seasonal temp jobs with low pay. We need good jobs that pay a living wage to get out of the economic morass brought on by trickle-down economics.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on September 20, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Anderson, a Daily Kos Labor contributor, describes himself as a 44 year-old veteran, lifelong Progressive Democrat, Rabid Packer fan, Single Dad, Part-time Grad Student, and Full-time IS worker. You can learn more about him on his Facebook, “Kodiak54 (Mark Andersen)”

Chicago Teachers Strike Ends, But ‘Multi-Year Revolution’ Begins

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Chicago teachers–and their students–returned to their classrooms today after the union’s 800-member House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly yesterday to suspend their seven-day strike. The local contract fight drew national attention to the clash between two different visions of school reform.

Within the next two weeks, roughly 29,000 teachers and staff will vote on their new contract. Reactions from union delegates who talked with members walking the picket lines–and who did not vote on whether to recommend adoption of the contract–indicate that teachers are likely to approve the deal.

Already the debate is starting over who won and what lessons should be learned.

Here are some initial thoughts:

1. Teachers, students, parents and the public are the immediate winners–not because the contract was a sweeping victory, or the fundamental problems of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were solved, but because the contract limits the encroachment of corporate-style school reform. Such reform adopts a punitive attitude towards teachers, rather than a collaborative approach to encourage continual improvement while weeding out the hopelessly incompetent. The reform agenda also relies heavily on high-stakes, standardized tests that distort education and have proven an inaccurate and unreliable measure of teacher performance.

In the public-relations battle over who was helping “the kids,” the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) held its own by emphasizing how it successfully bargained for a commitment to hire 600 new teachers in art, music and other “enrichment” courses. CTU also extracted promises from CPS to hire more counselors, supply textbooks by the first day of school and include a parent representative on a class-size review committee.

2. Defenders of corporate reforms–such as the Chicago Tribune editorial page–see the contract as their victory: Teachers will be evaluated partly on student test scores and the school year will be longer (but not as long as mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted). But CTU had to make some of its concessions to comply with state law, and some of those state changes came in response to conditions the Obama administration placed on federal aid.

3. The union came away stronger. Members were inspired by the strike, the rallies and the strong public support. That support came especially from low-income African-American and Latino parents, whom anti-union writers and public spokespeople continued to describe as hostile to teachers (despite two polls to the contrary). Ultimately, the strike was a success and will serve as a model for the future because the new, more radical CTU leadership educated and organized members far in advance; organized parental allies and public support; and kept faith in internal union democracy, open debate and ultimate deference to the will of rank-and-file members.

It’s little surprise that on the day the strike ended, top Emanuel advisor, charter school advocate and “wealthy venture capitalist” (as the Tribune described him) Bruce Rauner told a right-wing policy conference, “The critical issue is to separate the union from the teachers.” That will be harder now, but the Tribune editorialists had another solution: accelerate the closing of public schools and opening of publicly funded but private charter schools and prohibit teachers from striking. In any case, Rauner sees the strike as the start of “a multi-year revolution.” His reactionary “revolution” imposed from above, however, now faces a revolution from below.

As union delegates left the meeting yesterday, one after another stressed, “We’re not done,” “It’s not the end,” or, as middle school teacher Mike Murphy put it, “The contract is a first step in a long struggle for justice.”

The bigger battles ahead include fights over CPS’s plan to close 80 to 200 schools and open more charters, fair funding for the schools, proper implementation of the contract and much more. Meanwhile, the national American Federation of Teachers (with which CTU is affiliated) has already had some success with a parallel, ongoing effort to organize more charter school teachers.

But these local Chicago fights have less chance of succeeding if Democratic politicians throughout much of the country–starting with the administration–continue to embrace corporate school reform and reject a more collaborative approach that starts–as CTU president Karen Lewis said Tuesday–by taking into account the views of those who do the work.

Democrats should reject the corporate reforms not just because they ape Republican policies or because they’re anti-union or because they give up on government–all good enough reasons. They should also do so because research shows that most of the corporate nostrums don’t work (including evaluating teachers based on student test scores) and that charters are no panacea (with more performing worse than comparable public schools than the small share performing better).

Of course, education by itself will not significantly reduce inequality and poverty, both of which make teaching more difficult, especially in big city schools like Chicago, where more than four-fifths of students qualify for free lunches on the basis of low family income. Ultimately, reforming public education must be part of–not a substitute for–a broader movement for economic justice.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, 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. He can be reached at [email protected]

Thousands at Fighting Bob Fest in Madison Cheer Anti-Walker Ruling

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

A throng of thousands in Madison, Wis., erupted in cheers upon learning of Dane County Circuit Court Judge’s ruling this Friday that Act 10—Gov. Scott Walker’s law aimed at stripping public employees of meaningful rights to union representation—violated state and federal constitutional protections for free speech, association and equal protection. The judge struck down provisions of Act 10 in relation to municipal and educational employees, though not state employees.

The Madison crowd was assembled this weekend for the 12-year-old, annual Fighting Bob Fest, which takes its name from the state’s legendary progressive governor Robert M. La Follette Senior. The festival marked the first major gathering of progressives in Wisconsin since the failed effort to recall Walker in June.

Walker raised the ire of labor and liberals with his 2011 plan to “drop the bomb” on public workers by crushing their unions. He privately described the move as part of a “divide-and-conquer” strategy to play off private-sector workers’ resentment against their public-sector counterparts.

Gov. Walker’s Act 10 had explosive reverberations: It triggered a six week siege of the State Capitol in Madison by crowds of at least 100,000. This spring, an exhaustive effort by progressives gathered more than one million signatures demanding a June 5 election recall—nearly matching Walker’s winning vote total in 2010. But Walker’s massive fund-raising advantage of about 7-to-1 and the enormous TV ad campaign it bought sufficed to swamp the grassroots organizing and allow the governor to hold on to office.

In the wake of the disappointing recall failure, Colas’ ruling served as a major morale booster for the Fighting Bob crowd. “The crowd love it when we announced at the start that Act 10 had been rule unconsitutional,” says Madison labor attorney and festival founder Ed Garvey.

But the ruling isn’t the last word on Act 10. The case will now go to the state’s Supreme Court, which already voted 4-3 to uphold the law earlier this year after a federal judge in March tossed out provisions clearly designed to make maintenance of union membership as burdensome as possible. The debate among state Supreme Court justices in that instance was so bitter that Justice David Prosser, Walker ally, was accused by several witnesses of choking fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley before the vote.

Give this, Garvey sounded a cautionary note in his Fighting Bob speech: “We all know how David Prosser is going to vote. This is a reminder of how important Supreme Court elections are to the people of Wisconsin.”

Daily Kos, too, has warned labor and progressives against excessive celebration of the Colas decision, noting the limited nature of the ruling and Gov. Walker’s determination to end the state’s 70-year tradition of public-employee rights by any means necessary.

Walker, true to form, responded to the ruling by claiming that his June 5 recall victory constituted a mandate for Act 10’s extreme limits on public-employee rights. He expressed smug certainty that the Colas ruling would be tossed out:

“Sadly a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. His e-mail address is [email protected]

10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The middle class is the great engine of the American economy, but that engine is sputtering. Today, the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the AFL-CIO and more than a dozen other worker advocate and economic research organizations are proposing “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century.”

The guiding principles of the road map to rebuilding the middle class are values we all share: that work lies at the center of a robust and sustainable economy; that all work has dignity; and that through work, all of us should be able to support our families, educate our children and enjoy our retirement.

The report does not focus on the urgent need to end our jobs crisis, but it does point to the recent report by professor Jacob Hacker and Nate Loewentheil, founder of the Roosevelt Institute, “Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All,” which sets out a comprehensive agenda to create good jobs. We cannot rebuild the middle class without putting America back to work.

As too many Americans cannot find work at all, too many workers are toiling in jobs that don’t pay enough to support families. Meanwhile, the jobs that will grow the most in the next decade are expected to be low-wage and stripped of benefits. Says NELP Executive Director Chris Owens:

For a lot of Americans, simply having a job no longer means you’ll be able to support a family or pay for your basic needs. We have a low-wage recovery and most new jobs in the next decade are expected to follow the same path. If we are going to rebuild the middle class and restore national prosperity, we need to make today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good.

Here’s a quick overview of the 10 steps:

1. Make every job a good job. Today, the majority of the high-growth jobs in america—retail sales, home health and personal aides, food prep workers and the like—pay very low wages and provide little chance of promotion. We will not build the strong middle class we need to power the economy forward in the 21st century unless we make sure that today’s jobs and tomorrow’s jobs provide good wages and benefits.

2. Fix the minimum wage. Restoring the lost value of the minimum wage, indexing it to inflation and raising the tipped-worker wage will increase take-home pay for 28 million hardworking Americans and boost consumer spending and job creation in communities across the United States.

3. Save good public and private jobs. Public employment has been a pathway to the middle class for millions of workers, but today, public employees are being laid off in record numbers or having their jobs privatized to low-wage firms. And big corporations are outsourcing good jobs from the United States to other countries around the world. We need to stop cuts and privatization of good public jobs. and we must stop rewarding corporations for shipping jobs overseas.

4. Ensure health and retirement security.

  • Continue to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will provide financial incentives for businesses to contribute to health coverage and sliding-scale tax credits for workers who do not get coverage at work. Add a public option to further control costs.
  • Ensure states implement the option under the ACA to expand Medicaid to cover workers who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level—$31,000 for a family of four.
  • Protect Medicare benefits by controlling costs through incentives to increase quality and enforceable budgets.
  • Do not cut Medicare benefits or replace its guarantee of benefits with a voucher for private insurance.
  • Ensure all workers have a secure retirement plan.
  • Strengthen Social Security by eliminating the cap on earnings subject to tax. Improve benefits for low-income earners, the elderly and college-bound survivors. Do not cut benefits or privatize the Social Security program.

5. Uphold the freedom to join a union. Unions are key to creating good jobs, and not just for union workers. But outdated laws and corporate-driven policies have severely weakened the ability of workers to freely join a union and collectively bargain. The decimation of unions is a big reason why wages and benefits are down and our economy is sputtering. Our public policy should uphold the freedom for all workers to stick together and choose to be represented by unions.

6. Make the modern workplace pro-family. The rules of the workplace have not kept up with the changes in the workforce. Managing work-family conflict is toughest on the lowest-wage workers, who have the least access to paid leave. Earned sick days and affordable family leave are indispensible to today’s workforce, our communities and economy.

7. Stop the wage theft. We all should get paid for the work we do, but the reality is that wage theft is all too common, particularly for low-wage workers, in wide variety of jobs. We must strengthen and enforce the laws to stop employers from stealing wages as many currently do by: paying workers less than the minimum wage; not paying for overtime; and sometimes not paying workers at all.

8. Require that your boss be your employer. Stop employers from escaping responsibility for paying their workers decent wages and benefits by stopping the use of hiring permanent temp workers and the misclassifying of employees as independent contractors and by directing public dollars to employers who hire worker directly.

9. Give unemployed job-seekers a real, fresh start. It is tough enough to be out of work, without having to face discrimination because you are unemployed and the fear that you will lose your unemployment insurance before finding a job. We should stop hiring discrimination against unemployed job seekers and, instead, help them get good jobs and keep them solvent while they are looking for one.

10. Toughen laws protecting worker safety and health. With millions of workplace injuries and illnesses each year, the law must be strengthened to punish employers who create unsafe work conditions and retaliate against workers who speak up. In addition, injured and ill workers need a stronger social insurance program that is transparent and unbiased and ensures immediate access to health care for workers and adequate compensation for lost wages.

Rebuilding the great American middle class in the 21st century will once again require deliberate action by working people, through our government and by businesses that understand that our mutual long-term prosperity depends on treating workers everywhere with dignity and giving them the means to a decent standard of living. It will mean taking a U-turn from the policies of the past 30 years, which have squeezed workers in the pursuit of short-term profits, slowly hollowing out the middle class on which our long-term prosperity is built.

Read “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on September 13, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Charter Schools Stay Open During Strike, But Solidarity Lurks Inside

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

For the second day in a row on Tuesday, tens of thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members and supporters, clad in red shirts, flooded the city’s downtown to push for concessions in contract negotiations with the city. As the third-largest school district in the nation, and the birthplace of Arne Duncan’s model of education reform, the Chicago teachers’ strike may well turn into a referendum on the direction of public education nationwide—including on the growth of non-unionized charter schools, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to continue expanding in the city.

But as striking teachers continue to turn the city into a sea of red, many charter-school operators are seeing green. For the Chicago’s 52,000 charter students, school is in session as usual this week—a fact some are touting as a boon for charter expansion.

The longer the strike continues, charter operators claim, the more likely it is that parents will look to options not impacted by labor disputes.

“If this strike happens, it will awaken parents’ interest in terms of ‘Why can’t we have more choice’ (and) ‘Why do we have to be stuck without having a voice,'” United Neighborhood Organization CEO Juan Rangel told the Chicago Tribune last week. “I think parents are going to be frustrated when they see 50,000 kids having an education, going to school without interruption and their kids are not.”

The teachers’ strike, the first in Chicago in 25 years, is also the first ever to take place in a city with a large charter sector. About 12 percent of Chicago students are enrolled in charters, a figure that has doubled in the past five years. CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter notes that charter schools are “the elephant in the room” during the negotiations. Charter expansion is broader than any set of issues that the union can resolve through a contract, but the district is counting on the continued growth of charters as it pushes changes that will lead to more school closings and teacher layoffs. By striking, the CTU hopes to stave off many of the measures pushed by charter advocates—merit-based pay, longer school days and “flexibility” in teacher retention.

Many charter operators have aligned themselves publicly against the teachers’ union. After Rangel blasted the CTU in a recent speech to the City Club of Chicago, CTU staffer Kenzo Shibata wrote in the Huffington Post that the influential charter chain was being used by the mayor as a “proxy” to attack the union.

But Potter says that the role of charter teachers during the strike could “cut both ways,” providing not only a foil for unionized teachers but a potential base for expanded organizing. The strike could also help build the nascent solidarity between the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the small but growing number of unionized charters in the city. To date, 14 charter schools have unionized under the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS) Local 4343, which like the CTU is part of the American Federation of Teachers. (State law mandates that public and charters school teachers cannot be part of the same local or collectively bargain together.)

“Charter schools are often used to put a wedge between teachers,” Brian Harris, the president of ACTS, tells In These Times. “But it doesn’t have to be that way.” At a recent AFT convention, ACTS Local 4343 put forward a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools in Chicago.

Harris says that the teachers’ strike could call attention to working conditions within charters, including long hours, high turnover and lower pay than their public sector counterparts. While the Illinois Interactive Report Card reports that the average CTU salary is $71,000, estimates put the average Chicago charter teacher salary at $45,000.

On Monday, ACTS Local 4343 issued a statement of solidarity with the CTU, and Harris says that many charter teachers are wearing red shirts or donating food and funds in support of strikers. But thanks to the controversial practice of housing charters in public-school buildings, this week some charter students and teachers are walking into school across picket lines.

While some analysts predicted that a strike could see picketers confronting charter teachers, the CTU has emphasized solidarity between the sectors. But at one “co-located” school (there are about 20 in Chicago), teachers reportedly picketed outside of the entrance of the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men in Englewood on Monday, chanting, “stop the cuts.”

At Doolittle Elementary School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, picketers said that teachers at the adjoining Chicago High School for the Arts had mostly been using the back door rather than walking past the lines. Since the two schools began sharing space, Doolittle has lost part of its third floor to art studio space for charter students, a development that angered many elementary-school teachers. But strikers also said that some charter teachers and parents had arrived wearing red shirts to show their support. “They’re doing what they need to do, and we’re doing what we need to do,” one Doolittle teacher on the picket line told In These Times.

All of the city’s unionized charter schools have no-strike clauses in their contracts, says Harris, but those that share buildings with public schools have been finding other ways to support the strike. Chicago Talent Development Charter High School, the city’s first union-backed charter, has suspended classes for the first week of the strike after discussions with neighboring Crane High School, saying it wants to “maximize the potential for a productive and positive working relationship among all adults in this building.” But it has announced that it will reopen them, regardless of whether the strike has ended, on September 17.

Charters are criticized for sucking public funding out of open enrollment schools and weakening the ranks of teachers’ unions. But most unions have now accepted charters as a fact of life and moved toward unionizing their teachers. According to data collected by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, about 12 percent of charters nationwide are unionized.

The decision by teachers’ unions to stop fighting charters tooth and nail, and in some cases to back the expansion of unionized charters, has been criticized by some as collusion. But Potter emphasizes that the question of charters is in fact “the perennial question for the labor movement: How do you organize the unorganized? Any union that fails to answer that question is a dinosaur.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Burns, an In These Times staff writer, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.

After Battle with Mining Giant Peabody, Willow Lake Coal Miners Win Union

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Workers at the Willow Lake coal mine in southern Illinois are now represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the union’s victory in a rank-and-file election.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published a notice of its certification on September 4, following a lengthy series of administrative delays and legal actions. UMWA won a closely fought representation election on May 20, 2011, at the mine in rural Equality, Ill., about 150 miles east of St. Louis, Mo.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts called on the owner of the mine, Peabody Energy Corp., to quit stalling and negotiate a new contract for the 440 miners and production worker represented by the union. “It’s long past time for…Peabody Energy to finally accept the rule of law, sit down with its workers and negotiate a fair and equitable contract,” Roberts stated in a September 6 press release.

Peabody is the largest coal producer in the world, with extensive mining operations in the United States and Australia. Headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., it reported “record-setting financial performance” of $1.02 billion in profits last year, according to a statement from Peabody CEO Greg Boyce.

The NLRB’s action last week comes in the wake of a major court victory for labor against Peabody and its subsidiary, Big Ridge Inc. On April 30, U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy ordered the company to cease an illegal anti-union campaign against the UMWA, and to reinstate Wade Waller, an outspoken Big Ridge employee who had been fired for supporting the union.

In issuing his order, Judge Murphy recounted the history of the UMWA organizing drive at Willow Lake. He stated that “Big Ridge proceeded to conduct a vigorous ant-union campaign” at about the same time that the UMWA sought a representation election at the mine.

“Big Ridge held a series of group meetings with employees, which included slide shows, films, and presentations by officials of Peabody Energy. … Big Ridge distributed flyers with employee paychecks, mailed letters and videotapes to employees’ homes, and made anti-union stickers available for employees to wear on their hardhats,” Judge Murphy’s wrote. The decision also noted the company “directed supervisors to make one-on-one contact with employees to encourage them to vote against UMWA representation.”

Despite the anti-union campaign, the UMWA prevailed in the election in a narrow vote of 219-206, according to NLRB records. But the company challenged the vote and fired Waller, a seven-year employee of Big Ridge with an outstanding work record. The only credible explanation for the firing, Judge Murphy determined, was that Waller “was one of the strongest and most outspoken UMWA supporters at the Willow Lake mine.”

Since the court action in favor of the union and Waller, Peabody has refused to begin contract talks, says UMWA Director of Communications Phil Smith. The NLRB’s recent certification of the union has not changed that, he says, and union lawyers will not be surprised if Peabody seeks a court appeal and further delay.

Meanwhile, UMWA faces a challenge from Peabody on an entirely different front.

According to UMWA, Peabody is abusing the legal process so as to avoid paying out millions in health care benefits that it owes to more than 20,000 former Peabody employees, retirees and family members.

In 2007, Peabody created a new company, Patriot Coal Corp., to operate most of its unionized coal mines in Appalachia. As part of the deal, Patriot assumed the liabilities for healthcare benefits for thousand of former Peabody employees and retirees, in addition to benefits for many dependents, UMWA said.

But in July, Patriot filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in federal court, saying it could no longer sustain its healthcare costs, which it estimated might exceed $100 million this year.

UMWA’s Roberts has charged that the spinoff of Patriot and the subsequent bankruptcy are both part of a deliberate attempt by Peabody to avoid paying the benefits that are due to union members and their families.

On Aug. 30, Roberts kicked off a new “Fight for Fairness at Patriot” campaign at a mass meeting of 3,000 union miners in Charleston, West Va. “We are prepared to go to he mat over this. This is an enormous challenge to our union,” Roberts told local reporters.

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 12, 2012. 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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