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Archive for March, 2013

Broadcast Employees Reach Tentative Agreement with ABC

Friday, March 29th, 2013
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

After two years without a contract, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America (NABET-CWA) has reached a tentative agreement with the American Broadcasting System (ABC) on a four-year contract. The last contract between NABET-CWA and ABC expired on March 31, 2011. James C. Joyce, president of NABET-CWA and head of the bargaining committee, unanimously recommended to union members that they ratify the contract.

Joyce said:

After two years of protracted negotiations, this latest round of mediation has produced a breakthrough, and this offer is now worthy of our members’ consideration. The persistence of our members and our bargaining committee to achieve a fair contract was instrumental in this outcome.

Approximately 2,500 ABC employees would be covered by the new contract, which NABET-CWA says includes significant improvements over ABC’s “final” offer in 2012. Among these are a 9% wage increase and an additional year on the length of the contract.

Ballots will be mailed to eligible union members on April 15, 2013, and must be returned by May 9, 2013, in order to be counted. Locals participating in the vote include: 16 (New York), 31 (Washington, D.C.), 41 (Chicago), 51 (San Francisco) and 57 (Los Angeles).

The full agreement is available online and further updates can be found at NABET-CWA’s website.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on March 28, 2013. 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.

Labor Law Loses Its Watchdog

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Bruce VailThe day-to-day application of key federal protections for workers’ collective bargaining rights is becoming paralyzed, say legal experts and union organizers, as employers across the country realize that a recent federal court decision effectively allows them to ignore the enforcement of the landmark National Labor Relations Act.

The implementation of the New Deal-era law—which protects the right of most workers in private industry to form unions and negotiate collectively with employers—is reported to be slowly grinding to a halt as result of a January 25 court decision in Noel Canning v. NLRB [PDF]. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that President Barack Obama improperly employed the recess appointments clause of the constitution to name new members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This means, in effect, that almost 800 NLRB actions taken since the January 2012 recess appointments are unenforceable and that the current board is powerless to implement new orders. Or, as former NLRB Chairman William B. Gould IV tells In These Times: “Compliance with NLRB enforcement is voluntary for employers at this point.”

“There is plenty of evidence that it is having a huge impact on the ground,” says Lynn Rhinehart, co-general counsel of the AFL-CIO. She describes the decision’s effect on union organizing campaigns across the country as “deep and problematic.”

Because of the Canning decision, Rhinehart explains, any employer can now go to a federal appeals court and be granted an indefinite delay in enforcement of any NLRB action taken in the last 14 months. More than 60 employers have filed such cases since the January 25 decision, NLRB spokesperson Nancy Cleeland confirms, and more are expected. All of these cases are officially being held in abeyance pending U.S. Supreme Court action to either affirm or overturn the Canning ruling. That could take up to a year, Cleeland estimates.

Many employers aren’t bothering to formally request delays, but simply ignoring the NLRB rulings that remain in legal limbo. A March 23 story in the Huffington Post details how West Virginia union members mistreated at the hands of anti-union coal operators must now wait indefinitely to see their jobs and backpay restored. Similarly, some Connecticut nursing home workers are being deprived of their legal wages and benefits, says Deborah Chernoff, a spokesperson for the New England division of the healthcare workers union 1199SEIU. In a case notable for both its bitterness and complexity, strikers at five nursing homes operated by HealthBridge are back at work, but not at the compensation levels ordered by the NLRB last year. Instead, they are receiving lower wages and reduced benefits ordered by a bankruptcy judge, and the NLRB is powerless to enforce its order or challenge the bankruptcy court’s decision, Chernoff says.

Meanwhile, the decision has stopped some organizing campaigns in their tracks. Ann Twomey, president of the New Jersey-based Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, says that about 200 nurses fighting for a union at Memorial Hospital of Salem County are “on hold” because of the legal uncertainty at the NLRB. The employer—notoriously anti-union Community Health Systems (CHS)—is stalling talks toward a first contract, despite the union’s 2010 victory in a representation election, Twomey says. Normally in such a case, the union could call on the NLRB to order the employer to the negotiating table. But that’s not an option until the legal authority of the NLRB is re-asserted, says Twomey. “The nurses are functioning as a union and are doing their best,” she says, “But they don’t have a contract, and there isn’t a way forward” without the NLRB.

Resolution of outstanding legal issues in older cases is even affected, says Michael Beranbaum, organizing director of Washington state-based Teamsters Joint Council 28. A Teamsters strike against Oak Harbor Freight Lines in 2008 created legal issues around pensions and healthcare benefits, he tells In These Times, but resolution is being further stalled because the trucking company went to federal court seeking new delays under the Canning decision. “This is an example of the pitiful mess in Washington, D.C.,” resulting from Republican Party obstruction of President Obama’s legitimate appointment powers, he says.

According to a March 11 story in the Wall Street Journal, high-profile employers such as Starbucks, Time Warner, Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, Domino’s Pizza and McDonald’s are entering the courts in efforts to hamper the actions of the NLRB. In addition to requests for enforcement delays, cases have been filed as a preemptive step to discourage NLRB involvement in workplace disputes at those companies, the newspaper reports.

A common element in many of these cases is that employers are being aided and abetted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to Rhinehart and other worker advocates. The Chamber assisted the managers of the Noel Canning Corp. in advancing their court case and the Chamber’s Litigation Center is currently maintaining a Web-based “resource page” for employers to coordinate action against the NLRB. The Chamber is also said to be mobilizing Republican members of the Senate to prevent the confirmation of any new NLRB appointees in its ongoing efforts to immobilize the board, Rhinehart indicates.

“It looks like they [the NLRB] are just out of business for the next nine months, at least,” says former NLRB chairman Gould, who teaches at Stanford Law School and is the author of Labored Relations: Law, Politics, and the NLRB–A MemoirIt will take at least that long for the Supreme Court to act,” he says, and an anti-union ruling could very well create even more delay and confusion.

“They [the NLRB] are trying to march right along, issuing new decisions and acting as if the D.C. Circuit Court will inevitably be overturned, but employers don’t see it that way at all,” Gould says. “I can tell you right here in the Bay Area that NLRB subpoenas are not being enforced. Employers are just refusing to honor their subpoenas.”

NLRB’s Cleeland confirms Gould’s report about the agency’s subpoenas. “We’ve seen challenges at every level” of the legal process, she says.

Gould says the current situation is reminiscent of the first two years following the 1935 enactment of the original law, also known as the Wagner Act (after its chief sponsor Sen. Robert Wagner, D-N.Y.). Employers actively resisted the new law on a large scale, Gould says, and many refused to cooperate in any way until the Supreme Court ruled on its validity.

“Back in those days there was something called the Liberty League that cheered the employers on. The Chamber of Commerce is playing that role today,” Gould says. “So this is not new. Their antipathy to labor law and to the NLRB is longstanding. The only thing that’s new is that they [NLRB opponents] are sitting pretty ….They don’t have to do anything” to comply with the Wagner Act until the Supreme Court clarifies the situation.

Not all union organizing is affected by the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to neuter the NLRB. For example, railroad and airline workers are not covered by the Wagner Act, and campaigns in those sectors are going forward unaffected because they are under the aegis of the separate National Mediation Board. Likewise, public sector employees are not covered by the 1935 law, so the Canning decision does not impact their union initiatives at local, state and federal levels.

AFL-CIO’s Rhinehart says the mess at the NLRB could best be cleared up if the U.S. Senate simply confirmed the new NLRB nominations submitted this year by the Obama Administration. A new board could then re-certify the decisions already made and return to work as normal, she says. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, Rhinehart reluctantly concedes, and thus some action by the Supreme Court seems required to get labor law back on track. Until then, it appears that the Chamber of Commerce has succeeded in effectively preventing the NLRB from doing its job.

This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on March 26, 2013. 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.

Michigan Republicans may slash university funding as revenge for union contracts

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Laura ClawsonIf Michigan Republicans are campaigning to be named worst Republicans in a state that voted for Barack Obama twice and has two Democratic senators, they can probably relax. Because wow. A Toledo Blade editorial explains that both Wayne State University and the University of Michigan adopted eight-year contracts with their faculty and staff before the lame-duck-passed anti-union freeloader law could go into effect. Because the contracts were passed before the law went into effect, it won’t affect faculty and staff at the universities until the contracts expire. That means that, while no one will have to join the union, people who don’t join will have to pay a fee covering the costs of their representation.

But majority Republicans on the state House’s higher education subcommittee were furious at what they perceived as an attempt to get around the new right-to-work law.So they voted to slash both schools’ state aid by 15 percent. That could mean a cut of $47 million for U of M and $27.5 million for Wayne State. One GOP lawmaker boasted that “we‘ve sent a serious message here,” and accused the universities of trying to violate state law.

It’s not clear how either school could have broken a law that is not yet in effect. And Wayne State president Allan Gilmour, a tough negotiator who was Ford Motor Co.’s longtime chief financial officer, told lawmakers that the long contract actually saves taxpayers money.

The “serious message” Michigan Republicans are sending here, of course, is “we’re unrepentant assholes.” And if passed into law, this particular piece of unrepentant assholery will hit not just faculty and staff at the two universities but students as well, since you don’t cut university funding by 15 percent without leading to increased tuition, cuts that affect the quality of education offered, or—most likely—both.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 25, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

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

7 Ways the Sequester Is Inflicting Real Pain

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Jackie TortoraWe already covered how sequestration cuts will affect your state, but here’s an update on the pain these cuts are causing in communities across the country since they went into effect March 1.

Think these cuts aren’t painful? Think again. Here are some highlights on the sequester’s reign of terror from newspapers and media outlets across the country:

FAA To Close 149 Airport Control Towers Due to Sequestration

Head Start Programs Gutted by Sequestration Cuts

Sequestration Will Take Big Bite from Medical Research Funding 

Military Tuition Assistance Taken Away After Sequester

Sequestration to Force Weeklong Closure of Government Agency

Meals on Wheels Suffers Amid Sequestration

23 Tooele County Employees Laid Off Due to Sequestration

The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel break down local stories even further. See a longer list of the devastating cuts here.

Remember, the sequester is a completely made up, dumb idea and can be easily repealed by Congress. This year alone, 750,000 will lose their jobs because of the sequester.

Working families are calling on Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts (i.e., raising the retirement age and the “chained” CPI), repeal the sequester and close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest 2%.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on March 22, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

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

How the Poultry Industry is Grinding Up Workers’ Health and Rights

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Michelle ChenWalk through any supermarket poultry section and you can marvel at the wonders of the modern food processing industry: antiseptic aisles packed with gleaming, plump shrink-wrapped chickens, sold at bargain prices under the labels of trusted agribusiness brands like Tyson and Pilgrim’s. But all that quality meat doesn’t come cheap: it’s paid for dearly by factory workers who brave injury, abuse and coercion every day on assembly lines running at increasingly deadly speeds.

According to newly published research on Alabama poultry workers by the civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the business model of the sector has sacrificed health and safety on the factory floor for the Tayloristic efficiency demanded by American appetites.

The supersized industry, which churns out about 50 pounds of chicken per American stomach annually, dominates many struggling towns in Alabama, a mostly non-union state, supporting about 10 percent of the local economy and some 75,000 jobsBut according to the SPLC’s researchers, the production line is butchering workers’ health:

Nearly three-quarters of the poultry workers interviewed for this report described suffering some type of significant work-related injury or illness. In spite of many factors that lead to undercounting of injuries in poultry plants, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported an injury rate of 5.9 percent for poultry processing workers in 2010, a rate that is more than 50 percent higher than the 3.8 percent injury rate for all U.S. workers.

Alabama workers interviewed by the SPLC reported being routinely subjected to unsafe working conditions that led to severe health threats, from repetitive stress injuries to respiratory issues to chemical burns. Adding insult to injury, employers often ignored workers’ debilitating problems or punished them for asserting their rights. Evoking images reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s century-old expose on the meat-packing industry The Jungle, workers reported that problems like crippling hand pain would be diverted to the company nurse, rather than more intensive care by an outside doctor. Others were fired before they could become more of a liability.

One worker, a black woman in her 30s, recounted in an interview being pressured to shield her company from responsibility for her injury:

“I shouldn’t say it’s work-related. If I say my pain comes from something I did at work, then I will be laid off without pay and three days later get fired. So, when I go to the nurse I tell her that I hurt my hands at home.”

In towns that lack decent job opportunities outside of the poultry industry, these workers face an oppressive workplace culture that undermines not only their health but their dignity. Workers reported “being discouraged from reporting work-related injuries, enduring constant pain and even choosing to urinate on themselves rather than invite the wrath of a supervisor by leaving the processing line for a restroom break.”

Conditions may soon worsen, the SPLC notes, because the Department of Agriculture is seeking to alter regulations to allow even faster line speeds. That means the already frenzied pace of production–whipping bird carcasses into hermetically sealed flesh pellets in a matter of seconds–might speed up even more under a controversial set of proposed changes to plant inspection protocols.

The planned reforms have been criticized as counterproductive because they transfer control of inspections from federal inspectors to company employees. The revamped inspection process would, according to critics, both give corporations more power to regulate their own henhouse while accelerating the already frighteningly hectic pace of production. Some USDA inspectors have criticized the proposal, warning that with the combination of sped-up lines and company-controlled oversight, these industry-backed efforts to “modernize” the production chain may create more safety risks. So safety standards for both consumers and workers might be further weakened. (Industry representatives dispute the SPLC’s research, insisting that the proposal would not harm safety standards.)

Underlying labor injustices have exacerbated the immediate workplace hazards. The mostly black and Latino workforce, which includes many documented and undocumented immigrants, generally have little recourse against abusive employers. Many saw their pay arbitrarily cut by deductions for housing expenses and other fees. Meanwhile, for female workers, sexual harassment was a commonly reported issue. Harsh immigration enforcement laws, which were recently tightened by state legislation that seeks to further criminalize undocumented Latino workers, has made them even more economically insecure and socially marginalized.

One structural problem making poultry workers especially vulnerable, the researchers argue, is that despite some general occupational safety guidelines for poultry plants, OSHA “has no set of mandatory guidelines tailored to protect poultry processing workers,” which constrains workers’ ability to take legal action against unsafe working conditions or unfair treatment.

The report’s author, SPLC advocate Tom Fritzsche, says that while OSHA can enforce general workplace protections, regulatory gaps nonetheless enable the industry to structure its labor system around loophole-ridden standards for food production, which are not focused on worker safety. “This specific [line speed] rule from USDA is not really intended originally as a worker protection standard… The speed that they currently run at is based more on whether the inspectors can see the chickens, rather than how the workers can do the work safely,” he says. As a result of these regulatory lapses, “We’ve kind of ended up in a world where this is the only limit on speeds.”

Until state and federal regulators start prioritizing workers’ labor rights and health needs, the unsafe work environment, Fritzsche adds, “ultimately comes from the fact that the whole industry is just operating in this kind of race to produce as many chickens as they can in as little amount of time as they can. And so it affects every aspect of the worker’s job.”

But all those bitter hardships are stowed far away from the millions of super-clean, ultra-cheap drumsticks that will end up on American dinner tables tonight. Countless consumers will enjoy their meals without any conception of how perfectly the poultry industry masks the true price of its brutal efficiency.

This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on March 21, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times, a contributor to Working In These Times, and an editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has appeared on Alternet, Colorlines.com, Ms., and The Nation, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

Las Vegas Strip Action Results in 98 Arrests

Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

Nearly 100 workers were arrested Wednesday night in Las Vegas as they engaged in civil disobedience to protest the Cosmopolitan casino’s refusal to agree to a fair contract with its workers. As reported Wednesday, members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165 blocked the street on the Las Vegas Strip, leading to 98 arrests.

Workers shut down rush hour traffic for more than an hour as about 1,500 people gathered in solidarity with the Cosmopolitan casino workers. The casino is owned by Deutsche Bank. According to U.S. News and World Report, some of the gathered workers said they were concerned that the bank was delaying so they could sell the casino without the employees having a union contract.

The workers engaged in the protest were not employed by the Cosmopolitan:

Moments before her hands were bound with a zip tie, Janet Hill said she decided to get arrested to send management a message.

“They need to give workers here a contract; it affects us all,” said Hill, a porter at the Flamingo casino down the Strip.

Paulina Corona came to the protest in the brown uniform she wears as a housekeeper at the Mirage hotel-casino. She said the demonstration was important because mutual support creates strength.

“This is a union, and everybody is in it together. When there are problems at the Mirage, everyone goes there,” she said.

Corona, 58, said that as a cancer survivor she worries that management could make workers shoulder more of their health care costs.

“Every day, they try to ask for more things,” she said.

Check out the Local 226’s Facebook page for more pictures and updates.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on March 21, 2013. 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.

Civil rights champion Thomas Perez being nominated for labor secretary

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Laura ClawsonPresident Obama’s nomination of assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez for labor secretary becomes official today after more than a week of increasingly solid rumors. Perez has headed the civil rights division of the Justice Department since 2009; previously, he has been secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, a member of the Montgomery County Council, director of the civil rights office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton, and a special counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy.

If confirmed, Perez will be the only Latino member of Obama’s second-term cabinet. He will also be a notable progressive voice in a cabinet containing or expected to contain several members less than friendly to workers and worker organizing, such as Hyatt Hotels heiress Penny Pritzker, the likely commerce secretary nominee.

Perez has a noteworthy record on both civil rights and labor issues; during his time there, the Justice Department “opened a record number of civil rights investigations into local police departments accused of brutality and/or discrimination,” challenged restrictive voter ID laws, gotten major fair-housing settlements, and more. Both in his time in Maryland and at the Justice Department, Perez has sought to strengthen and enforce worker protections:

Pushed for labor protections for domestic workers: Millions of domestic workers in the United States make low wages because they aren’t protected by labor law, a problem Perez sought to address while serving on Montgomery County’s City Council, where he pushed for contractual labor law protections and a minimum wage for such workers. After three years of debate, and after Perez had left the council, those protections became law in 2008 and gave domestic workers contractual labor rights they still lack in most of the United States.Protected immigrant workers from losing pay: Perez would take over the Dept. of Labor in the middle of Obama’s push for immigration reform, and he has experience dealing with immigration and labor issues. While serving in the Justice Dept., Perez investigated claims that employers were using Alabama’s new immigration law to avoid paying immigrant workers. “We continue to be concerned that certain employers may be using HB56 as an excuse not to pay workers,” he said, adding that he would “throw the book” at employers who weren’t paying workers. “We’re here. We will prosecute you. That is impermissible, period.”

Republicans are already teeing up their series of objections to Perez, from whether he accurately represented the role of political appointees in decisions about the New Black Panther Party case (not whether he politicized decisions, mind you, but whether he unknowingly was inaccurate about things that happened before he arrived in the Justice Department) or a Minnesota fair housing case that has Sen. Chuck Grassley upset. So we can likely expect a lengthy confirmation process, if not another outright filibuster. But if and when he’s confirmed, Perez looks likely to be a real champion of working people.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 18, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

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

Labor and Allies, Surprised By Obama’s $9 Minimum Wage Proposal, Scramble to Coordinate

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

photo_86504WASHINGTON, DC—When President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour in his State of the Union speech on February 12, the call came as a surprise to many wage-increase advocates.

Jen Kern, the minimum wage campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, one of the largest advocacy groups on wage issues, says that her organization was consulted only “two hours ahead” of the State of the Union speech.

“We had been pushing him on this for years, since he mentioned it in his campaign in 2008, and never really heard anything from him,” says Kern. “So, yeah, we were surprised.”

“We were given little advance notice,” says Bill Samuel, government affairs director for the AFL-CIO, labor’s main coalition. “I think this is a strategy that the White House has often employed before a State of the Union. I believe that was intentional. It wasn’t a bad motive. I think they decided this should be good news.”

In another indication that the president didn’t consult with allies before selecting the $9-an-hour figure, Congressional Democrats Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (Calif.), who proposed an increase to $9.80-an-hour in last year’s legislative session, were already at work on a new bill to raise the minimum to $10.10. They issued a joint response to the State of the Union applauding the president’s move but questioning the $9-an-hour figure, saying: “While we believe the president’s proposal is lower than what is needed, there is no question that last night he threw the doors open for a robust discussion on the importance of raising the minimum wage.”

Harkin and Miller, who serve as the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House committees with jurisdiction over wage increases, officially introduced their $10.10 proposal on March 5. According to a press release issued by Harkin’s office, “If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be worth approximately $10.56 per hour today… Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour will increase GDP by nearly $33 billion over the course of three years as workers spend their raises in their local businesses and communities.”

The $1.10-an-hour difference between the president’s proposal and Congressional Democrats’ plan would have a cumulative effect. Under both plans, once the minimum wage rate is set, it will thereafter be adjusted as a percentage of inflation, and is unlikely to make a jump as big as $1.10 an hour in one year.

The lack of coordination between labor, the White House and Congressional Democrats appears to continue in the wake of the Miller-Harkin bill. The AFL-CIO isn’t sure whether the White House supports the increase to $10.10 an hour. “I have not heard anything positive or negative. It’s my assumption they are fine with a higher number if it’s possible in the House or Senate,” says the AFL-CIO’s Bill Samuel.

The White House would not respond to inquiries about whether it supports the Miller-Harkin proposal. However, in a blog post for The Huffington Post on Thursday, Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris reiterated the president’s call to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. White House spokesperson Matthew Lehrich told In These Times by email, “The President applauds Senator Harkin, Representative Miller for getting this debate started in Congress. He stands ready to work with Congress to pass legislation to increase the minimum wage as soon as possible—both parties should agree that hard-working families should not be living below the poverty line.”

Meanwhile, four weeks after the State of the Union, the President’s grassroots political advocacy arm, Organizing for America, has yet to meet with the AFL-CIO to discuss how to coordinate mobilizations on the state level to win the minimum wage fight.

“We haven’t talked specifically about their strategy, but we will soon,” says Samuel. “We have a meeting coming up with OFA where I am sure this will be discussed, but we have not had any formal meetings. There has been some talk about using their grassroots structure of OFA and we are certainly preparing to use our grassroots structure.”

Organizing for America did not respond to request for comment.

Despite the apparent lack of coordination so far, labor is optimistic that the president will genuinely push for a minimum wage increase.

“The president is taking on the conservatives and most of the Republican Party to do this,” says Samuel. “It’s always exciting to be in a fight that certainly if we win can help so many people. I think they are serious about it.”

This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on March 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a Pittsburgh native and labor journalist for In These Times. His investigative work has been cited on the front page of the New York Times and debated by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on ABC’s The View. Elk won a Sidney Award for his coverage of how corporations crafted legislation to exempt prison labor from U.S. minimum wage laws.

Working America: 10 Things You Should Know About Paycheck Deception

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

dougfooteSince 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.

In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.

Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:

Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.

Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.

Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”

Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.

Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent—and like our elections, majority rules.

Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart Research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.

Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k) and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions—these laws would make that process more difficult.

Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts.The laws frequently violate the First Amendment—since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court—they’ll probably lose.

Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions. Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work” state.

So-called “right to work” laws ban fair share clauses in contracts, forcing unions to represent workers whether or not they pay dues—another tactic used to weaken unions.

Learn more at Progress MissouriBuilding the Middle ClassThe Brennan Center for JusticeNonprofit Quarterly and Mother Jones.

This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on March 15, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the AuthorDoug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Unions to Blame for Economic Woes? 'Oh, Please'

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Jackie TortoraToday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board ridiculed the absurd notion from the Missouri state Senate that somehow union members (teachers, nurses, secretaries, pothole fixers and home health care workers) are to blame for the state’s economic woes. “Oh, please,” the board responds. 

In its editorial, the board points out Missouri state workers are the lowest paid in the country.

Early Tuesday morning, while some of those workers were helping roll over your grandma or grandpa at the nursing home so they didn’t get bed sores, the Republicans who lead the state Senate set things right. They gave initial approval to a bill that will make it a little harder for the unions that represent those public employees to collect fees that might be used to elect thoughtful people to elected office.

The board says that the Republicans in Missouri didn’t want to feel left out of the union-bashing that occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan, so they followed suit pushing through legislation crafted by “their corporate overlords in the American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes cookie-cutter legislation written by corporate lawyers to enhance their bottom lines.”

In one of the last key legislative weeks before the spring break, the Senate:

  • Raised taxes on poor people.
  • Cut taxes for rich people.
  • Hurt teachers, nurses and other public employees.

The S.B. 29 paycheck deception bill, which makes it harder for unions to collect fees from its members (which are voluntary), is such a “farce,” the board adds, that its sponsor, state Sen. Dan Brown (R), was unable to explain its purpose. 

First responders, police and firefighters are exempt from the bill. 

Call your representative now at 888-907-9711 and urge him or her to oppose paycheck deception, “right to work” for less and anti-prevailing wage bills.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on March 12, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

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

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