Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for February, 2015

Did Jimmy John’s Fire Yet Another Worker for Supporting a Union?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Bruce VailFranchise operators at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches in Baltimore are proving true to the national chain’s anti-union reputation with an aggressive counter-attack against local labor organizing, including a decision in late January to fire an outspoken union supporter, say advocates for the Jimmy John’s Workers Union, an affiliate of the radical union Industrial Workers of the World.

Delivery driver Brennan Leister says he was fired Jan. 23 at the Jimmy John’s location in downtown Baltimore’s tourist district. The reason cited by the manager was an infraction of the rules governing clocking out for breaks. But the “real reason,” Leister charges, is that he is an active and vocal union supporter. He says he is likely to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the firing, but that he intends to continue to agitate for the union whether he is re-hired or not.

Leister’s dismissal is of a piece with the franchisee’s larger effort to push back against the union campaign, sometimes using tactics that appear to violate labor law, says Issac Dalto, also a Jimmy John’s delivery driver and union supporter. Since going public with their organizing effort last year, Dalto says, the local franchise owners fired another prominent union supporter, distributed anti-union materials in worker paychecks and hired a local anti-union law firm to contest separate unfair labor practice charges filed at the NLRB by the union last August.

Those charges are now tied up in NLRB delays as the franchisees challenge the Board’s subpoena of company employment records, Dalto reports. Appearing on NLRB documents as the representative of Jimmy John’s franchisees Daniel Dorch and Michael Gilette is Kevin McCormick, a lawyer with the firm Whiteford Taylor Preston. The firm’s own website states it handles “union organizational avoidance” for businesses of all kinds.

Three telephone calls to McCormick seeking comment were not returned. Similar e-mail requests were ignored.

The dismissal of Leister prompted a street demonstration on his behalf by union supporters January 31. Held in front of the Jimmy John’s downtown Baltimore location (near to the entrance of the Camden Yards baseball stadium), the demonstration saw about 25 union backers march on an informational picket line as thousands of sports fans streamed by on their way to a “FanFest” celebration for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Fans also packed the Jimmy John’s restaurant, as members of the local police department kept a close eye on the demonstrators.

Demanding that Leister be re-hired, the demonstrators also protested the low wages at the sandwich shop. Leister emphasized the point by telling In These Times that he had been hired at a wage $7.25 an hour in June 2013 and had not received an increase until this year, when state minimum wage law mandated an increase. He estimates that income from tips upped his hourly income to about $10 an hour, but that the cost of maintenance and repair of his personal bicycle cancelled most of the additional tip income. Drivers were provided with company-owned bikes when he started at Jimmy John’s in 2013, he says, but the vehicles were taken away and drivers required to supply their own bikes thereafter.

These kinds of wages are typical at the more than 2,000 Jimmy John’s restaurants around the country, Dalto adds, and spurred a highly publicized effort establish a union at for the company’s workers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in 2010. The effort was defeated, Dalto says, using the same tactics now being employed by the Baltimore franchisees.

The IWW campaign in Baltimore emerged into public view last year just as the fast food strikes began grabbing national headlines. Although there is no formal connection between the Baltimore organizers and the IWW’s national campaign to organize low-wage service sector workers—which also include a long-running Starbucks organizing campaign—and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-led Fight for 15 campaign, both groups have stressed the need to boost the chronic low pay of fast-food workers and to introduce other workplace improvements.

Leister says that his dismissal was an attempt to intimidate other workers who may consider supporting the union: “They want to create a climate of fear. The fast-food industry depends on working mothers and other income workers who can’t afford to lose a paycheck. They want you to fear the management, to fear the boss.”

This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on February 11, 2015. 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.

A Legacy Remembered

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Gebre

Every February, people across the country celebrate Black History Month. We honor the  heritage and struggle of African Americans in the United States while looking with hope  toward the future. This year, I am honored to look back at organizers and activists who  inspire me daily in my work as a leader in the labor movement. The history of the  modern labor movement, which is positioned to speak, fight and win on behalf of all  workers, is filled with strong black figures who fought for civil and economic justice  during a time when justice was not guaranteed for all.

When I arrived in the United States at the age of 15 as a refugee of war-torn Ethiopia, I  struggled to take care of myself financially while also trying to focus on my academics.  When I started college at Cal Poly Pomona on an athletic scholarship, I also got a job as a night shift loader for UPS as a member of Teamsters Local 396. UPS was my first union job, and it opened my eyes to the world of labor and all of the trailblazing African American organizers who had come before me.

People like Bayard Rustin, who persevered in the face of threats and violence in his efforts to organize workers on behalf of the trade unionists. Despite enduring multiple arrests and beatings, Rustin continued in his work and went on to help organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom alongside A. Philip Randolph, another great African American labor leader. The March on Washington was the largest demonstration the United States had ever seen, bringing together hundreds of people in the struggle for better jobs and better lives.

Thanks to the work of activists like Rustin and Randolph, all African Americans have moved closer to achieving the goals of justice and equality set forth by the civil rights movement. Rustin and Randolph are important examples of the positive role unions and collective action play in the African American struggle for economic justice. Today, African American union members earn 28% more than our nonunion peers and are far more likely to have good benefits that help us raise families. But there is still work to be done.

Now more than ever, the struggle for civil rights must include good jobs that raise wages and an economy that works for all. Without good jobs, there is no real freedom. While African American union members are weathering the economic downturn with the aid of collective bargaining, our nonunion brothers and sisters are suffering. Today African Americans have a 10.4% rate of unemployment in the United States, compared to a 4.8% rate for white Americans.

It’s time for the next generation of leaders to take up the torch and work on behalf of all workers. I am grateful for the inspiration that past African American leaders have left behind for me. This proud legacy continues to motivate fellow activists who are fighting for justice today. Let’s get to work and make them proud.

This article originally appeared at  The Huffington Post on February 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission from AFL-CIO Now.

About the author: Tefere Gebre is the Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.

Demanding Respect for Worker Safety

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Leo GerardIn Anacortes, Wash., last week, approximately 200 Tesoro workers began picketing the oil refinery where an explosion incinerated seven of their co-workers five years earlier.

Butch Cleve walks that picket line, serving now as strike captain for the USW local union at Tesoro. On the day of the catastrophe in 2010, Cleve walked the coroner to the shrouded bodies of three of his friends.

Steve Garey, who helped make the decision to strike as a member of the USW’s oil bargaining policy committee, wept repeatedly that April day five years ago as he told the relatives of his dead friends that their loved ones would never come home.

Kim Nibarger, a USW health and safety specialist, suffered flashbacks of an earlier blast as he investigated the one at Tesoro. He was an operator in 1998 at the refinery adjacent to Tesoro in Anacortes when a massive detonation instantly cremated six of his co-workers.

The Tesoro strikers are among more than 5,000 USW members nationwide on unfair labor practice strikes demanding corporations respect their bargaining rights and the rights of workers and communities to safety.

Over the past two negotiation cycles, the USW’s 30,000 refinery and chemical workers struggled to persuade their highly profitable employers to include strong safety language in the collective bargaining agreements. The deaths at Tesoro, as well as fatalities, injuries, explosions, fires and toxic releases at other plants nationwide since then, demonstrate that the measures didn’t go far enough. Now refinery and chemical workers are trying to increase the odds that they aren’t killed at work and that their communities aren’t engulfed in flames or fumes.

Last year, when the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent federal agency that investigates industrial disasters, issued its report on the Tesoro explosion, it found “a substandard safety culture at Tesoro which led to a complacent attitude toward flammable leaks and occasional fires over the years.”

The CSB said a nearly 40-year-old heat exchanger, one that Tesoro knew leaked, violently ruptured, triggering the fatal blast and fire. That caused the largest loss of life at a refinery since 2005 when 15 workers died and 180 were injured in an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City. CSB chair Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso said last fall, “The CSB is seriously concerned by the number of deadly refinery accidents in recent years.”

Moure-Eraso said regulators and refiners must work continuously to lower risks because the loss of seven lives at Tesoro “should not have happened.”

The blast occurred a little after midnight on April 2. Steve Garey was at home, asleep. His sister in Seattle, up late, heard a news bulletin and called him. Garey got to the refinery at about 5:30 a.m.

Emergency responders, deputy sheriffs and the refinery’s fire brigade were all still there. “Everyone appeared to be shell shocked,” Garey recounted, “They looked haggard. They looked drawn. Some people were in grief, crying. Others had blank stares on their faces, not wanting to talk. Others were very, very angry, wanting to talk a lot.”

Garey, a machinist at the refinery who served on the local union’s negotiating team then, said some Tesoro officials asked him to help them break the terrible news to families after the company’s first visit went poorly.  “I spent the bulk of that first day travelling to people’s homes with stone-faced supervisors,” Garey recalled. His face, by contrast, was crumpled in grief.

“All you can do is go in and cry with them, hug them, tell them how you feel and let them know they are not alone,” said Garey, who now serves as the local union’s president.

Butch Cleve got to the plant at about the same time Garey did that morning in April, 2010. Unlike Garey, Cleve didn’t know what had happened until a supervisor told him. Cleve recounted the guy saying, “We had an explosion and fire. Four were taken to the hospital and three are missing. Well, they are not really missing, but we are not sure who is who.”

The four taken to the hospital were horribly burned. Two died that day, one later that week, and the fourth within a month.

After escorting the coroner to the places where the bodies lay, Cleve stayed at the plant another 15 hours, trying to console his co-workers. “The people from the area of the blast in particular were my concern at that point,” he said. “It was kind of taking care, talking to people, gauging them and trying to offer whatever moral support I could.” Other union leaders did the same.

“Some people were in shock. Some were inconsolable. Some were just in a haze,” recounted Cleve, who was a process equipment operator then but now works full-time on safety.

Cleve said he was angry that the company knew this equipment had a history leaks and fires and hadn’t made the repairs necessary to prevent the catastrophic failure.

“A big part of this strike is that none of us wants to be the next person to lose his life for no good reason,” he said.

At about 12:30 a.m. on April 2, 2010, Kim Nibarger, who lives in Pittsburgh now, had just arrived at his parents’ home in Washington State for a visit. He heard a sound in the distance he describes as “whoop, whoop.”

He knew it was an explosion at one of the two refineries in Anacortes. He drove to an overlook and saw flames at the Tesoro refinery and helicopter landing lights flash on at the community hospital.

As he walked onto the site the next day with federal investigators, he was angry. “I was madder than anything else because this had happened again.”

He was the local union president at the neighboring refinery in 1998 when an explosion instantly killed six workers.

That time, he was driving with his parents to a restaurant across the highway from the plant for lunch when he saw smoke and flames. His pager went off, summoning emergency responders.

He was among those who volunteered to go into the unit and retrieve the bodies. He described the condition as charcoaled.  Like Garey, Nibarger spent a lot of time crying with victims’ families.

Since 2004, Nibarger has worked full-time on the staff of the USW International trying to prevent these catastrophes. But he’s frustrated. Off the top of his head, he can cite fatal case after fatal case.

In 2012, highly toxic hydrofluoric acid was released from the CITGO East Refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. This followed an explosion in 2009 when the deadly acid escaped the perimeter of the same refinery and a fire that critically injured a worker burned for several days.

Also in 2012, a fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., sent 15,000 members of the community to hospitals with breathing problems. Richmond has sued the company accusing it of placing profits over public safety.

In 2013, a heat exchanger explosion at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, La., killed two workers and injured 114, in what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said was a serious violation of safety practices.

Also in 2013, a heat exchanger fire at ExxonMobil’s Beaumont, Texas, refinery killed two workers and injured 10, some critically. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited ExxonMobil and two other companies involved for safety violations.

In 2014, two workers at the Chevron Phillips Chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, were severely burned in a flash fire.

Just three weeks ago, a worker fell to his death at the CITGO refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“We keep asking, ‘how many guys have to die?’” Nibarger said. “We think there have been plenty already.”

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.

One State That Could Take The Gender Wage Gap Head On

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Bryce CovertOn Monday, Oregon lawmakers considered a pair of bills that could significantly reduce the gap in average earnings between working men and women, which currently means the state’s women make 80 percent of what men do.

House Bill 2006 would make it unlawful for employers to pay workers of different genders who do equivalent work differently. House Bill 2007 would make it illegal to punish workers who ask about or discuss their pay with each other.

The first bill’s language is subtle, but it could have important consequences for women in the state. As written, equivalent jobs wouldn’t rely on having the exact same role at the exact same company. Rather, equivalent jobs would be those that are the same when the required skills, training, education, effort, responsibility, and working conditions are the same. For example, women who coach girls’ teams couldn’t be paid less than men who coach boys just because boys’ teams bring in more money. Employers could still have differing pay grades based on merit, seniority, training, and education differences among workers.

Rather than pay equality as we imagine it now, where only men and women with the same job titles should be paid the same, such an approach, often called comparable worth or pay equity, would seek to equalize pay for people doing different but similar work. This focus addresses the part of the gender wage gap caused by the fact that women choose or are limited to lower-paid work. Low-skilled fields that are 25 percent or less female pay nearly $150 more a week than those dominated by women. At the higher end of the skillset, male-dominated jobs pay nearly $500 more a week than those crowded with women.

Such an approach used to be widespread: As of 1989, 20 states had made comparable worth adjustments within their own workforces, spending more than $527 million between 1983 and 1992 to adjust 335,000 lower-paid women’s pay. This eliminated 20 percent of the gender wage gap, and in five states — Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, and Connecticut — it was reduced by 25 to 33 percent. And a research paper found that the reductions in the wage gap were due to the programs, not other factors.

 

But they have since mostly faded away. One state, Minnesota, still has a robust program that requires all cities, counties, school districts, and other government entities to assess and adjust the pay scales between men and women every three years. Gaps crop up in the intervening time — last year, just 64 percent of the entities had equitable pay when the compliance process began — but they get addressed in the end. Yet it still focuses on the public sector; a push to move it into the state’s private sector by requiring companies that contract with it to analyze pay equity didn’t get approval last year.

Oregon’s second bill, HB2007, could also have a big impact on the state’s gender wage gap. Currently, about half of all workers across the country say that they are prohibited or discouraged from discussing their salaries. That makes it hard for anyone experiencing wage discrimination to find out what’s going on and correct it; Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, didn’t find out she was being unfairly paid less than her male coworkers for 19 years.

On the other hand, wherever there’s salary transparency there’s a smaller wage gap. It’s much smaller for the federal workforce, where few workers are prohibited from talking about pay and wage scales are usually public, and has shrunk significantly over the last decade. It’s also 40 percent smaller for unionized workers than for non-union ones and has been falling, and union representation often helps make wage scales transparent.

Little improvement on the gender wage gap has been made nationally. It steadily shrank between the 1960s and 1900s but progress has since slowed to a crawl, with basically none made over the last decade. A federal bill would similarly ban salary secrecy but has been repeatedly blocked by Republicans, while the pay equity, which is part of the Fair Pay Act, hasn’t been on the agenda in many years.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on February 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

Why buying Made-in-America matters, and how to do it

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

david“There’s something happening right here in this country. It’s the sound of America…working with American materials in American factories.”

The excerpt comes from WeatherTech’s second Super Bowl commercial, watched by millions of viewers on Super Bowl XLIX (if you missed it, check it out here). Highlighted by this commercial, something besides Russell Wilson’s fourth quarter goal-line pass was on America’s mind that night.

Made in America matters, both for the future of America’s economy and for workers.

The U.S. manufacturing industry has seen modest growth recently. Although American production has declined in the last forty years, manufacturing activity has been growing more rapidly than the overall U.S. economic GDP for the first time in 50 years. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturing has contributed $2.09 trillion to the U.S. economy, up from $1.73 trillion in 2009.

This growth is motivated by many factors including a decreasing cost advantage of outsourced labor, competitive energy costs, and a desire to manufacture closer to customers. To be sure, this is no reason for workers to be overly optimistic. The absolute number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has declined 30% from 2000 to 2014. But his sort of information does show hope for an industry that’s an important part of the U.S economy.

If every American family spends an extra $49.95 on American-made goods during the holiday season, 150,000 American jobs would be created. For every $1 spent on American-made goods, it invests an additional $1.32 in the U.S. Economy. That means money spent here, stays here, and creates more wealth for everyone.

The manufacturing industry also creates middle class jobs. The average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $77,506 annually including pay and benefits. This is higher than the average worker in all industries, who earned $62,546. And American manufacturing workers earn every penny of it. Manufacturers in the United States are the most productive in the world, two and a half times greater than 40 years ago and far surpassing worker productivity of any other major manufacturing economy.

And jobs aren’t just created in the warehouse. Not only does buying American manufacturing employ production workers, inspectors, sorters, machinists, and team assemblers; manufacturing also creates higher skill service jobs like accountants, lawyers, engineers, and operations professionals. Currently in the United States, 12 million Americans hold jobs directly in manufacturing, while another 5.6 million workers are supported by this industry. The manufacturing industry also drives more innovation than any other sector, performing 75% of private sector R&D in the United States.

So how do I buy American made?

If you don’t know where to look, finding American-made products at your local retail store can be a challenge. It’s not that these products don’t exist; you may just not know where to look. Here are three resources to help:

  • Union Plus – Union Plus was founded by the AFL-CIO to provide consumer benefits to union members. On Union Plus’ Buy Union Made page, you can find lists of union-made products such as beer, appliances, pet supplies, and more. You can also find the nearest union grocery store with the new UFCW Mobile app.
  • Labor 411’s Directory – A one-stop resource for people looking to buy union-made, American goods and services. Comes in both print and online.
  • Union Label & Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO – The UL&STD was founded in 1909 to promote the products and services produced in America by union members — especially those products and services identified by a union label, shop card, store card and service button. Check out their Do-Buy lists, as well as the Boycott List, to help you shop ethically.

About the Author: David Tindell is a Marketing Assistant for Union Plus. He joined Union Plus in 2012, and has written for the Union Plus Consumer Bargains blog since 2013.

This article was written by David Tindell of Union Plus. Union families who want to stay updated on the benefits of union membership can sign up for Union Plus’ free E-Newsletter here.

Economy Adds 257,000 Jobs in January

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Image: Mike HallThe economy added 257,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate ticked slightly up to 5.7% from December’s 5.6%, according to figures released this morning  by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was unchanged from December at 2.8 million, but the median duration of unemployment went up, because of a rise in the share of workers unemployed more than 15 weeks. So, those who have returned to the labor market still find it hard to find work.

AFL-CIO Chief Economist William E.  Spriggs said 2014 was the best year for job growth since the 1990s, and America is experiencing a record number of consecutive months of private-sector job growth. But he added:

In 2014, workers’ wages barely outpaced inflation, increasing only 2.1%. In fact, throughout the recent economic expansion, workers’ wages have stayed the same. If you adjust for inflation, median weekly wages for full-time workers are stuck where they were in 2011. That’s a big problem, because those are workers in their prime who are holding steady jobs.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in retail trades (46,000), construction (39,000), health care (38,000), food services (35,000), professional and technical (33,000), financial activities (26,000) and manufacturing (22,000).

Employment in other major industries, including mining and logging, warehousing, transportation, information and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates in January for teenagers increased to 18.8% from 16.8%. The jobless rate for adult women (5.1%), adult men (5.3%), blacks (10.3%), Latinos (6.7%) and whites (4.9%) showed little change in January from December.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

Obama Administration Honors Coalition of Immokalee Workers for Fight Against Forced Labor; Strengthens Regulations to Combat Trafficking

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

charlie fanningForced labor and human trafficking exist in worksites and industries where workers’ rights are routinely violated and where a culture of exploitation reigns. In the tomato fields of Florida, more than 1,200 farm workers once toiled in conditions of forced labor. However, thanks to the organizing efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), these workers now have respect on the job, higher wages and a say on the job.

Doug Molloy, former chief assistant U.S. attorney for southwest Florida, told the Fort Myers News-Press that the CIW:

“As the eyes and ears and conscience of the community, they helped liberate more slaves and helped develop more successful prosecutions than any other group of people I am aware of in all the work I have done in human trafficking.”

In recognition of CIW’s work to end a system of exploitation, Secretary of State John Kerry recently presented the 2015 Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking in Persons to the CIW. Said Kerry:

“They’ve helped uncover and investigate several farm slavery operations across the southeastern United States. I hope everybody hears that: farm slavery operations across the southeastern United States.”

CIW has fought for the rights of Florida’s farm workers for more than 20 years and has pioneered a worker-based social responsibility model, the Fair Food Program, to include workers in addressing exploitation and abuse and to eradicate forced labor in Florida’s tomato fields. CIW’s highly successful program leverages the buying of major corporations and strong consumer awareness to increase the price of tomatoes a “penny per pound” to raise farm worker wages.

The scope of the problem extends much more broadly than Florida’s tomato fields. Forced labor and human trafficking pervade the supply chains of many of the most recognizable brands today. Often, the chain of actors involved in forced labor enterprises runs from the recruitment of workers in local communities into factories in the supply chains of multinational enterprises, which are able to evade responsibility for abuses through layers of subcontracting and distanced staffing arrangements. With nearly 21 million people worldwide in conditions of forced labor, the issue of eliminating forced labor and trafficking in supply chains is one of the world’s most pressing human rights concerns. It also puts ethical businesses on an unleveled playing field and greatly concerns government officials in charge of contracting and procurement.

Kerry, at the award ceremony, said:

“The sources of the problem include individuals desperate for work; unscrupulous labor brokers who lie to recruit those workers; companies greedy for profits, who turn a blind eye to abuses; and customers looking to just save that extra dollar or two without regard to what the implications of those savings may be.”

In 2012, the Obama administration issued the Executive Order “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts” and, last week, published updates today to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)—the set of rules in place to govern the activities of government contractors—as required by the Executive Order. The updates establish a number of new safeguards and provide compliance guidance to businesses.

Both measures prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from confiscating passports or charging workers recruitment fees or using misleading or fraudulent recruitment practices (a common way for unscrupulous labor brokers to put workers in conditions of debt bondage and forced labor), and they require contractors and subcontractors to develop and maintain a compliance plan and to certify to eliminate forced labor in their operations. These new regulations are largely modeled on successful business practices and the input from the AFL-CIO, labor unions, civil society organizations, federal contractors and academia.

The Executive Order and FAR update are major steps forward in the fight against forced labor and human trafficking. But as CIW reminds us, it must be workers at the center of any enforcement mechanism, enforcing their own rights and having their voice heard. We can only hope that the administration’s example will be followed by U.S. lawmakers who have the power to expand these regulations to the private sector and by other governments and corporations that seek to end this scourge.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research coordinator for the AFL-CIO

Trumka: Obama Budget Falls Short on Corporate Tax Reform, Infrastructure

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Richard TrumkaAFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement on President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal:

In the State of the Union, President Obama forcefully advocated for working families and the bold actions we need to create an economy that truly works for all working people. His budget follows through with a number of proposals that would benefit American workers, such as repeal of harmful sequestration cuts, higher taxes on capital gains and a financial crisis fee on the largest financial institutions. These are all pieces to a robust program to raise wages.

But when it comes to fixing our rigged corporate tax system, the actual proposals in President Obama’s budget don’t match the rhetoric. As this budget stands, it falls short of a very simple standard: our tax system should not encourage corporations to shift jobs or profits overseas. We are also disappointed that the administration continues to propose corporate tax reform that does not raise significant amounts of revenue over the long term.

President Obama’s budget proposal to increase infrastructure investment is an important step in the right direction. But it does not go nearly far enough. Our economy needs trillions of dollars in investment to drive the productivity growth vital to raising wages. Our current infrastructure deficit, taken in context with the egregious level of inequality in our economy, means that we have to completely rethink our sense of progress.

Our crumbling roads and bridges need more than one-time or short-term fixes. We need a big vision if we are to build the future America and its workers deserve.

This originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

The Supreme Court Case That Could Decimate American Public Sector Unionism

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

photo_321703[1]Last week, an appeal was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for a case that could prove to be the most damaging case to labor in decades.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association aims to overturn a nearly 40-year precedent which allows the use of “fair share” fees for public sector unions, wherein all union members must pay for the costs associated with collective bargaining and contract administration. Since all workers in unionized workplaces share the benefits of unionization—and since unions are legally compelled to represent all of those workers, which requires use of unions’ financial resources—unions say that workers who choose not to become members of unions must at least pay these fees in order to not become “free riders,” gaining benefits from union representation without paying for them.

From its beginnings, the case has been specially crafted for the Supreme Court, and if successful would affect tens of thousands of union contracts and would force millions of public employees into a right-to-work model.

Justice Alito has been inviting a case like Friedrichs for several years, and anti-union groups have been paying attention. In the 2012 Knox v. SEIU decision, which changed the way in which public sector unions assess optional fees (those not associated with collective bargaining, such as political and public relations activities and other matters not related to collective bargaining)  from an opt-out to an opt-in procedure, Justice Alito, writing for the Court, said that “acceptance of the free-rider argument as a justification for compelling nonmembers to pay a portion of union dues represents something of an anomaly.”

At the time, many understood this statement to indicate that the free-rider and labor peace arguments propounded by previous Supreme Court decisions were no longer enough to convince the Court’s conservative majority of the justification for the allowance of fair share fees. Writing about the case for the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse recognized that “the issue in Knox seemed narrow, even arcane”; however, she explained, the decision set the stage for a full frontal assault on labor using the First Amendment.

In case his message in Knox wasn’t clear, Alito left no room for misinterpretation in his Harris v. Quinn decision last year.

In Harris, the Court held that home healthcare workers were not “full-fledged public employees,” and therefore the 1977 Abood case, which explicitly permitted fair-share fees for public sector workers, was inapplicable.

Alito could have stopped there, but instead he decided to thoroughly trash Abood and indicate that it is ripe for overturning. In paragraph after paragraph, Alito wrote that the Abood Court’s “analysis is questionable,” “seriously erred,” “fundamentally misunderstood,” “failed to appreciate,” “does not seem to have anticipated,” “did not foresee the practical problems,” and “a critical pillar of the Abood Court’s analysis rests on an unsupported empirical assumption.”

Alito was essentially begging for someone to petition the Court with a case that would allow the justices to address the First Amendment issues involved in fair share agreements.

In April 2013, the right-wing Center for Individual Rights (CIR), whose mission is to “aggressively litigate and publicize a handful of carefully selected cases that advance the right of individuals to govern themselves according to the natural exercise of their own reason,” filed such a suit on behalf of a handful of California teachers and a Christian educator organization. The case then began its race to the Supreme Court.

In federal district court, the CIR took the unusual step of filing a motion arguing that the court should rule in favor of the union. The group did this because they knew that the law is not on their side: Under current Supreme Court precedent, the CIR would lose in front of a California judge, since the district court must follow the law. But CIR is banking on the Supreme Court changing the law. The District Court obliged them by ruling for the union, which allowed the CIR to quickly appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. At the Ninth Circuit, the CIR took the same tack, asking the court to quickly rule in favor of the union so it could get the case before the Supreme Court.

This week, approximately a year and a half after the complaint was first filed in district court, the CIR filed its petition to the Supreme Court. Though the Court may decide not to accept Friedrichs if four justices do not vote to hear it, this case looks like exactly the sort that Justice Alito could use to finally usher in a national public right-to-work law from the bench.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the CIR asks the Court to rule on two related First Amendment questions: (1) whether the agency shop (a workplace that permits fair-share fees) should be ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require public employees who don’t want to join their unions to opt out rather than requiring everyone to opt in.

The petition then proceeded to rehash the old argument that all the bargaining issues for public sector unions are inherently political, and therefore all such workers should be under a right-to-work model. In essence, the CIR argues that any bargaining for increases in worker pay or benefits, or negotiations over work conditions, are inherently ideological issues that not all workers may agree on, and such negotiations are identical to lobbying.

Therefore, because money is equivalent to speech in the Supreme Court’s view, workers who have to pay a fair-share fee are being compelled to lobby the government on an issue they may disagree with.

Seattle University School of Law Professor Charlotte Garden told In These Times that although there are some superficial similarities between lobbying and public sector collective bargaining, there are critical differences.

“First—and most important to the Friedrichs case—unlike lobbyists, unions owe a duty of fair representation to all of the workers they represent, which means they (unlike lobbyists) have to spend money representing non-members,” Garden says.

“Second, the scope of bargaining is circumscribed by governments themselves—governments decide under what conditions they will bargain with unions, and unions are constrained by those restrictions. So, for example, a government might limit collective bargaining to the subject of wages, but of course government can’t limit the scope of what lobbyists can ask for.”

There is nothing new in the CIR’s argument, but it may succeed now because the Court’s views on the First Amendment and labor have changed dramatically over the years.

The Roberts Court has used the First Amendment in a manner that significantly advances corporate interests—from striking down campaign finance limits in Citizens United and related cases to striking down laws that limit pharmaceutical companies’ sale of doctors’ drug prescription data because they infringe upon corporate speech—and the Court’s decisions in Knox and Harris indicate that core union practices violate the First Amendment.

If the Supreme Court accepts this case, the decision could have enormous impacts on public sector workers by either allowing agency fees to remain but requiring all workers to opt in, or eliminating fair-share fees all together. That the agency fee in its current form could remain is possible, but unlikely—otherwise, the court would not have agreed to hear the case.

Professor Garden says that even the more limited opt-in ruling by the Court, which would require unions to obtain affirmative consent from non-member workers who are covered by the contract before charging them the optional portion of dues, could represent a significant drain on union resources. “This would mean that unions would have to go out and solicit workers to opt in—spending more organizing dollars on workers who are already covered by a union contract.”

If, on the other hand, the Court uses the First Amendment to declare all fair-share fees unconstitutional, it could represent the most radical shift in labor law in decades. Public sector unions, which represent one of the last bastions of strong unionism in the U.S., could lose millions of dollars through free riders, untold thousands of members and a significant portion of their already diminished institutional power.

This article originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on February 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Moshe Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book “Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.”

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