Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

2018 elections give paid sick leave and family leave new momentum in the states

June 19th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Nevada recently became the latest state to pass a paid sick leave law after 2018 put Democrats in control of the state. But Nevada isn’t the only state where paid leave has advanced in 2019, and the Democratic Governors Association is highlighting that momentum.

In addition to Nevada’s paid sick leave law, which will require businesses with more than 50 workers to provide 40 hours of earned sick days to full-time workers:

  • New Jersey has expanded its paid family leave law from six to 12 weeks and up to 85% of pay.
  • Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a law requiring employers with 10 or more workers to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave per year to be used for any purpose.
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order giving state employees paid parental leave—eight weeks after giving birth and four weeks for other new parents.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the nation’s strongest paid family leave law.
  • New Mexico and Louisiana also passed modest expansions of leave policies.

This is the kind of basic, humane policy to which Republicans are staunchly opposed. Policies that virtually every developed nation has and that are the law in a growing number of states, but that they want us to believe would be a disaster in the U.S. This is the kind of policy we get when Democrats are in charge.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

June 19th, 2019 | Kenneth Quinnell

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen.

In the early 1970s, Steve D’Inzillo was the business agent for New York City’s Motion Picture Projectionists Local 306, an affiliate of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He had built a reputation as a maverick and had a particular passion for expanding civil rights. He wanted  women to gain equal footing in the local, but the prospect was daunting.

For women to win respect and acceptance in the union, they would need both the skills to do the job well and the toughness to deal with the small-minded men that opposed women’s inclusion. D’Inzillo found the right women to challenge the system with Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen, a lesbian couple who were willing to fight for their rights. Laberge had a union background and loved the idea of taking on the status quo. Jacobsen had been a “hidden child” during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

In 1972, D’Inzillo sponsored Jacobsen’s apprenticeship and she got her license a year later, making her New York City’s first female “booth man.” Laberge also applied and was admitted to the trade in 1974. D’Inzillo watched the women on the job and in the union hall and was impressed at how well they supported each other. Jacobsen and Laberge soon proposed that Local 306 sponsor a pre-apprenticeship program for women. D’Inzillo eagerly agreed. Many of those who signed up for the program were the sisters, wives and daughters of booth men, and they were paid less to work in lower-skilled jobs.

Laberge spoke about the success of the program:

We got several licenses out of that first class. It was the first crack of having not just fathers and sons in the trade. We were into the feminist thing. We had the union change how they addressed the letters, to get rid of ‘Dear Sir and Brother.’ The men could be pretty derisive at meetings, so our women’s group dealt with their disruptions.

Laberge and Jacobsen were the proximate cause for Local 306 adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policies in the late 1970s. After working with the women for years, the local’s membership had no interest in excluding them. The local also began to regularly make contributions to lesbian and gay charities, and supported three gay members who were sick from AIDS.

This early success led D’Inzillo to ask Jacobsen to join the local’s executive board, but she wasn’t interested in board politics. Laberge, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about it and joined the board herself. Soon after she started a local newsletter, writing most of the articles. She became D’Inzillo’s right-hand woman as he rose up the ranks of IATSE. He twice ran for the national presidency and was elected to be an IATSE vice president, with Laberge by his side the whole time. During his time as a leader in IATSE, Laberge said D’Inzillo was the only person at national conventions who pushed proposals that dealt with larger social and political issues, and she was a key part of those efforts.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

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Number of workplace safety inspectors fall under Trump

June 18th, 2019 | Rebecca Rainey

Rebecca RaineyDespite assurances from Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta that he will boost the number of OSHA compliance officers this fiscal year, new data shows the number of inspectors has declined.

According to statistics that POLITICO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the number of compliance safety and health officers tasked with conducting workplace inspections at the agency had fallen in April to 870. That’s down from the 875 safety inspectors that OSHA reported in January (in response to a FOIA request from the left-leaning National Employment Law Project).

In addition, data provided to POLITICO from OSHA reveals that since January the agency has lost two area directors responsible for training and supervising safety and health inspectors.

During the same month that OSHA recorded the 7-person decline, Acosta testified before a House appropriations panel that OSHA “expects to have a significant increase in inspectors in FY 2019.” The fiscal year runs from Oct 1 through September 30.

At that April hearing, Acosta noted that OSHA hired 76 new inspectors in FY 2018.

“These numbers are stunning,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy adviser now with NELP. “The agency now has the lowest number of inspectors in its entire history—it will now take over 160 years for the agency to inspect every workplace under its jurisdiction just once. This does not bode well for workers.”

The number of OSHA inspectors fluctuated throughout the Obama administration, rising to 1,059 inspectors from 2009 to 2011, then declining to 943 from 2011 to 2015, then rising again in 2016 to 952 inspectors.

Democrats and safety advocates blame the decline under Trump on retirements and on the federal hiring freeze ordered in early 2017

“This is a sign of erosion in OSHA’s ability to inspect workplaces,” Peg Seminario, director of health and safety at the AFL-CIO, told POLITICO. “Acosta has committed to strong enforcement, but their ability to do so is being hobbled and crippled by losing experienced staff.”

In total, OSHA’s compliance safety and health officers reached 949 in April, but that figure also includes 79 area directors, who do not conduct workplace inspections. According to January numbers obtained by advocates, the agency had 81 area directors on board at the time.

The Labor Department’s budget request for OSHA for fiscal year 2020 included more than $3.7 million to hire 30 additional compliance officers

Asked to comment on the decline in safety inspectors, a DOL spokesperson said that OSHA “has taken several steps to increase its federal enforcement staffing levels.” In 2017, the spokesperson said, Acosta granted OSHA approval to fill all its funded inspector positions.

“OSHA has also begun recruiting for a larger number of positions than available vacancies,” the spokesperson said, “to ensure there is a continuous pool of [compliance safety health officer] applicants for selection when future vacancies occur.”

Despite the decline in inspectors, the number of OSHA inspections rose in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to above 32,000. But a March NELP report said that in both fiscal years the agency cut back on the number of more complex, resource-intensive, and “high-impact” safety and health inspections.

In making this calculation, NELP used the same metric created by OSHA under President Barack Obama. In 2016, OSHA stopped measuring its performance by the number of total inspections and instead started counting by weighted “enforcement units” to better assess the quantity of enforcement activity. Then-OSHA chief David Michaels concluded that a raw inspection count was misleading because one-day inspections were equated with more complicated five-month inspections.

According to NELP’s March report, in FY 2018 OSHA enforcement dropped by 352 enforcement units, to 41,478.

This article was originally published at Politico on June 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

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Congress makes minimum wage history, going the longest without an increase since 1938

June 18th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 24, 2009. That’s coming up on a decade, but it’s already hit an infuriating milestone: June 16 marked the longest the minimum wage had gone without an increase since 1938, when the U.S. passed its first minimum wage. Because Republicans are happy to have the minimum wage be a poverty wage—and it is a wage so low that a full-time job is not enough to pull a family of two above the poverty threshold.

The Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper lays out what workers have lost in the near-decade since the last increase: $7.25 in July 2009 was equivalent to $8.70 now. That means a minimum wage worker has seen their purchasing power drop by 17%, or the equivalent of more than $3,000 a year. And still Republicans stand in the way of a raise.

The good news is that many states—31 of them, plus the District of Columbia—have raised their minimum wages above the federal level, and in some cases well above it. Already in 2019 alone, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut have passed laws gradually raising the wage to $15 an hour, while Nevada and New Mexico are on their way to $12. But that doesn’t excuse congressional inaction, let alone congressional inaction on a historic, record-shattering level. Democrats have proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but it won’t happen as long as Republicans are in a position to block it.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Nevada workers get some big wins because elections matter, this week in the war on workers

June 17th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Nevada Democrats had a great Election Day in 2018, and Nevada workers are about to start seeing the effects of that. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a package of major bills, including one giving 20,000 state workers collective bargaining rights, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and more.

The state’s minimum wage will only go up to $12—$11 if the employer offers insurance—and won’t reach that level until 2024, with the first 75-cent raise not coming until July 2020. Compared with the laws taking some states’ minimums up to $15 on a faster timetable that’s not spectacular, but since Nevada’s current minimum wage is $7.25 for employers that offer insurance and $8.25 for ones that don’t, it’s still a substantial improvement for an estimated 300,000 Nevada workers. (And something for worker-activists to build on, perhaps.)

Workers at businesses with more than 50 employees will also start getting paid sick leave, up to 40 hours a year for full-time workers. That law will take effect January 1. Nevada will join 10 states and Washington, D.C., in having a paid sick leave law.

The law giving public workers collective bargaining rights is “yet another massive win for working people and the labor movement as union momentum continues to grow across the country,” according to AFSCME. Harry Schiffman, a local AFSCME president in the state called it “a historic day for state employees and all Nevadans, as collective bargaining rights will mean a voice on the job to make meaningful changes in our workplaces and communities.”

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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The Trump Administration’s War on Federal Workers

June 17th, 2019 | Sarah Lahm

Claiming 700,000 members in the United States and overseas, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) stands as the nation’s largest federal and D.C. government employee labor union. The union represents employees who provide care and support for veterans, the elderly and disabled, and people in need of housing through the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with other federal agencies.

A statement on the AFGE website describes these employees as the “vital threads of the fabric of American life.” Now, the AFGE contends, its members are under attack, thanks to recent actions by the Trump administration.

The AFGE is currently in contract negotiations with the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of 260,000 employees who work for the agency. In the process of these negotiations, AFGE District Office Manager Matt Muchowski says that VA management is attempting to undo labor rights that have been won by the union since its founding in 1932.

To better understand the nature of these affronts, Muchowski argues, it is important to look at three executive orders signed by President Trump on May 25, 2018. While the orders have since ostensibly been ruled in violation of labor law by a U.S. District Court in August 2018, Muchowski says that sections of the orders which limit time spent during the work day on union activities (known as “official time”) as well as due process are being pushed into the contract by VA negotiators.

This approach is “making it difficult for federal workers to do what they do,” by seeking to alter key elements of the contracts negotiated between AFGE members—including Veterans Affairs workers—and management, he says. Further, Muchowski notes, this strategy has already been employed during negotiations over the Social Security Administration contract earlier this year, which resulted in major concessions for workers. He says the Trump administration’s approach to the AFGE negotiations “represents an escalation of its anti-union tactics.”

The key elements of the 2018 executive orders fall under three categories: employees’ job protection and due process rights, official time and collective bargaining procedures.

The first order outlines limits on the use of “progressive discipline” approaches for workers in federal agencies and instead calls for the allowance of more immediate dismissals, among other more stringently dictated relations between management and workers.

The second order calls for more regulated and restricted use of “official time”: time employees are allowed to spend on union duties while still on the clock. This is a concept that has been part of AFGE’s labor contracts since the Carter administration, Muchowski notes, when the presence of unions in the workplace was seen as “part of effective governance.”

Under this model, an employee can conduct union business while using government-provided items such as office space, computers or phones. Trump’s executive order, however, calls for employees’ official time to be greatly reduced and also mandates that they should no longer be given free or reduced rate access to an office or a computer.

While the Trump administration holds that this revision is necessary to make the government “effective and efficient,” Veterans Affairs employee Germaine Clano disagrees. Clarno is a social worker at the Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital in suburban Chicago, and she says the loss of official time would be devastating.

Clarno provides full-time union representation to doctors, social workers and other professional employees of the VA through the official time provision, whether they are dues-paying union members or not. It’s work she describes as essential. “The culture of the VA is still very retaliatory,” Clarno says, noting that she acts as a resource for employees who would like to bring allegations of “waste, fraud or abuse” to light.

“Taking away official time means taking away employees’ security around being able to report what’s going on at the VA,” Clarno insists, “so that we can make things better for our veterans.”

The third order issued by Trump in 2018 is designed to “assist executive departments and agencies in developing efficient, effective, and cost-reducing collective bargaining agreements.” The order claims that collective bargaining agreements limit managers’ ability to either hold “low-performers accountable” or reward “high performers,” and that they are often drawn out, at the expense of taxpayer money.

The order calls for an expedited contract negotiation period, with lingering disputes to be settled by the politically-appointed members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). In the post-Janus era—which has brought new challenges to public sector unions—it’s notable that panel member David Osborne’s bio states that he has built a career around “offering free legal services to those hurt by public employee union officials.”

While both the FSIP and attempts to govern through executive orders are not new, they are part of an increasingly fraught era for federal workers and the Trump administration’s federal management team.

Just days before Trump issued his three executive orders, news reports noted the rising tension between workers and federal managers, who had just unveiled “an ambitious and aggressive plan to modernize the civil service,” according to Nicole Ogrysko of the Federal News Network. This plan, union leaders alleged, was intended to cut department budgets while turning more federal employees into poorly compensated temp workers.

Trump’s executive orders were contested in court by the AFGE and other labor unions, and in August 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled in favor of the unions. At the time, a review of the case appeared in the online news outlet, Government Executive, where reporter Erich Wagner stated that Brown Jackson found the executive orders to be in violation of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

This Act upholds the value of good-faith labor-management negotiations and concludes that they are done “in the public interest.” Nonetheless, Muchowski says, the Trump administration has persisted in seeking to negotiate labor contracts with federal employees according to the 2018 executive orders. As evidence, he cites the recently settled contract between the Social Security Administration and the 45,000 AFGE members who work there.

During the contract negotiation process, SSA management and union negotiators could not agree on twelve clauses, according to a reportfiled by Tom Temin of the Federal News Network. As a result, the contract was turned over to the FSIP, which has the power to either “recommend a way to agree,” or “order specific, binding actions” that both parties must abide by, Temin states.

While some government panels are bipartisan, the FSIP is not: All seven members were appointed by Trump. Temin notes that, of the twelve disputed clauses, the FSIP sided with management on ten of them. Although AFGE members were able to keep certain grievance rights, they did lose ground on some central matters, including the implementation of a seven-year contract (the union wanted a two-year term) and the loss of both office space and hours set aside for official time.

David Cann, director of field services and education for the AFGE, says he believes the FSIP’s actions are a violation of Judge Brown Jackson’s ruling against certain aspects of Trump’s executive orders. Brown Jackson’s decision, Cann notes, found that parts of the executive orders violated collective bargaining rights outlined in the Civil Service Act of 1978, and that neither the president nor his subordinates could continue negotiations under such terms.

Because the FSIP is an entirely politically appointed body, Cann argues that its members are, in effect, Trump’s subordinates and therefore should not be allowed to settle disputes, using what he believes are the administration’s executive orders as a guide.

In a statement posted to its website, the AFGE minced no words about the dangerous precedent such a decision could set: “A panel of Trump’s union-busting appointees has imposed anti-worker provisions in a new labor-management contract for the people who ensure elderly Americans and those with disabilities can live with dignity and financial security.”

Clarno has been closely tracking the contract settlement between AFGE and the Social Security Administration and says that, for her, the “fear is that the Federal Service Impasse Panel will push the same thing” for VA workers in contract negotiations. “Federal employees can’t strike,” she states. “Really, what leverage do we have? We have none. It’s very, very concerning.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 14, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.

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Renewable industry employed 11 million people in 2018

June 14th, 2019 | Kayla Mandel

The number of workers employed by the renewable energy industry keeps growing. In 2018, at least 11 million people around the world held jobs across the renewables sector, from manufacturing and trading to installation.

According to the sixth annual jobs report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the majority of these jobs are concentrated in China, the European Union, Brazil, and the United States.

The figures show a steady increase over the years. In 2017, there were 10.3 million jobs. This was up from 9.8 million in 2016 and 8.1 million in 2015.

This growth comes at the same time as countries are setting clean energy generation records. The U.K. recently went at least 10 days without generating any coal power, while last month in the U.S. renewable energy generation surpassed coal generation for the first time in history.

11 million people were employed in the renewables industry in 2018. Credit: IRENA.
11 MILLION PEOPLE WERE EMPLOYED IN THE RENEWABLES INDUSTRY IN 2018. CREDIT: IRENA.

In the United States, the number of people working in renewables is just under the amount employed by the fossil fuel industry. Last year saw a slight uptick in these jobs, with just over 1.1 million people employed in petroleum fuels, natural gas, coal, and biomass across the country.

According to the IRENA report, solar power remains the top employer within the renewables industry, providing 3.6 million jobs last year, accounting for a third of the entire industry’s workflow. This is in part due to expansion in India and Southeast Asia as well as Brazil. China, however, remains the leading solar employer, representing 61% of all jobs in 2018.

Meanwhile, 2.1 million people worked in the biofuel industry, another 2.1 million jobs were in hydropower, and wind employed 1.2 million people.

A third of all renewable jobs globally, the report states, are held by women. This is compared to a 22% average in the oil and gas industry. However, previous reports have shown that at least in the solar industry in the United States, the majority of jobs still go white men.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that tackling climate change means losing jobs. But as this report shows, in fact the opposite is true.

The findings in IRENA’s latest report support a study released last December by the International Labour Review which found that accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030.

In a press statement Thursday, Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA, said countries are investing in renewables not just because of climate concerns, but also because it makes economic sense.

“Beyond climate goals,” he said, “governments are prioritizing renewables as a driver of low-carbon economic growth in recognition of the numerous employment opportunities created by the transition to renewables.”

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting. You can reach her at kmandel@thinkprogress.org, or on Twitter at .

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Governor Murphy Signs ‘Panic Button’ Bill to Protect Hotel Workers from Assaults, Harassment

June 13th, 2019 | Michael Gillis

Hundreds of hotel workers, union leaders and elected officials gathered at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City today to witness the signing of a bill requiring hotels to equip certain employees with “panic buttons” for their protection against inappropriate conduct by guests.

“We must protect the safety of workers in the hospitality industry,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said. “I am proud to sign panic button legislation that Bob [McDevitt] and the working men and women of UNITE HERE, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, Charlie [Wowkanech] and Laurel [Brennan], Senator Loretta Weinberg and so many others have fought for to give hotel workers greater security and the ability to immediately call for help should they need it on the job.”

The portable safety device, known as a panic button, will allow hotel workers to alert security personnel if they feel they are in danger or a compromising position while performing housekeeping duties. Today’s signing makes New Jersey the first in the nation to have a statewide law requiring hotels to provide their employees with such devices.

Hotels that do not comply can be fined up to $5,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each additional violation, according to the legislation.

“The safety of women in the hospitality industry has been overlooked,” said Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE Local 54. “I’m proud that my state is the first to pass and sign into law real protections for housekeepers in the hotel industry.”

The harassment of hotel workers, especially housekeepers, has been a longstanding issue the hotel industry has struggled to address. Unite Here Local 54, a union representing nearly one-third of casino and hospitality workers in Atlantic City, was a driving force behind this legislation, which will provide an additional measure of security for thousands of hotel workers across the state.

“Whenever I go into a room, I wonder what is going to happen,” said Miriam Ramos, a housekeeper at Bally’s in Atlantic City. “Most guests are nice and respectful, but every housekeeper has either been sexually assaulted or harassed doing her job, or knows someone who has.”

“I’m glad that the legislature and the governor are making it safer for us,” Ramos said.

Assemblyman John Armato (D-2) introduced the “panic button” bill in the General Assembly in September. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) also sponsored the bill. Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Linda Greenstein (D-14) proposed it in the Senate.

“The New Jersey State AFL-CIO thanks the sponsors of the panic button bill for recognizing that hotel workers deserve to feel safe while on the job,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the state federation. “We are proud to have lobbied on behalf of this important legislation, which will no doubt help create a safer working environment for all of New Jersey’s hotel workers.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

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How Unions and Climate Organizers Learned To Work Together in New York

June 12th, 2019 | Rachel Cohen

Rachel CohenSeveral years before Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) elevated the climate, jobs and justice framework to the national level, a coalition of labor, environmental and community groups joined together to push for a pioneering climate bill in New York.

The idea for the legislation came in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 People’s Climate March, when organizers decided to build on the momentum of the historic demonstration. In 2016 the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) was born, an expansive bill that would require New York to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The bill would also mandate that 40 percent of New York’s climate funding go towards projects in low-income, vulnerable communities, and require all green projects to have high labor standards, including the requirement for a prevailing wage.

“It’s among the most aggressive decarbonization proposals in the nation,” said Arielle Swernoff, the communications coordinator for New York Renews, a coalition of over 170 state groups backing the legislation. “The only state that has really done something comparable is Hawaii.”

New York Renews offers an encouraging example of how labor and environmental groups can work together to act on climate change. The coalition has the backing of unions like 32BJ Service Employees International Union—a property service workers union, the New York State Nurses Association, the New York State Amalgamated Transit Union, Teamsters Joint Council 16 and the Communications Workers of America Local 1108. It also has the support of a vast number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York and GreenFaith.

The bill’s strong language around labor—such as requiring that government contracts include mechanisms for resolving disputes and ensuring labor harmony—has helped quell opposition from building trade unions that typically fight robust climate proposals. The New York AFL-CIO, a labor federation representing 3,000 state affiliates, has notably stayed quiet on the bill.

Nella Pineda-Marcon, the chair of the Climate Justice and Disaster Relief committee with the New York State Nurses Association, told In These Times that it was an easy decision for her union to back the CCPA. Her union, which represents 43,000 nurses statewide, got very involved with the climate crisis following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The following year, Pineda-Marcon traveled to the Philippines as a first-responder to Typhoon Haiyan. “We are on the front lines of this crisis, we see first-hand the destruction it has,” she explained. “And the massive amounts of pollutants in our air are driving up rates of chronic asthma in our most vulnerable communities… We need to lead now and the rest of the world can follow us.”

The politics of the CCPA are coming to a head as the deadline for passage ends June 19. The bill passed the state Assembly in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — and last year a majority of state senators signed on in support. But the Senate Leader never allowed it to come to the floor for a vote. After the 2018 midterms, however, when progressive Democrats ousted a group of centrists who often caucused with Republicans, advocates felt the stars were aligning more favorably for the CCPA’s passage this year.

Indeed, in January the new Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released a statement calling the CCPA “the main vehicle through which we will address climate change.” The state senate held its first-ever hearing on climate change in February, led by Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D), the new Environmental Conservation Committee chairman.

Various scientists testified, including Mathias Vuille, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of Albany and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Vuille explained that the most significant impact resulting from a changing climate in New York so far has been the rise of intense storms, which have increased in frequency in the Northeast more than any other region in the United States. Sea levels along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts have also risen much higher than the global average, he said, pointing to a rise in New York sea levels by 280 millimeters over the 20th century, compared to a global average increase of 170 millimeters.

While Vuille cautioned that he’s neither a renewable energy specialist nor an economist, he said “we owe it to future generations” to continue leading the transition off fossil fuels, and emphasized a need to reduce emissions in the transportation sector in particular. “I think this can be done if we really have the will,” he said.

Some labor advocates, like Mike Gendron, the executive vice president of Communications Workers of America Local 1108, also testified in support of the CCPA. “As we transition from fossil fuel based energy to renewable energy, we must make sure that the jobs created, are good paying union jobs with proper training, for both new workers and transitioning workers,” he said. “The New York State Climate and Community Protection Act will help make that happen.”

Other unions offered more qualified support, endorsing specific sections of the legislation. Ellen Redmond, representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), testified that her union does in fact believe the CCPA contains commendable language around workers’ rights. “We do believe the labor protections are strong,” she said, though suggested it could be even better if there were more teeth and real dollars behind it. IBEW represents about 50,000 members in New York, many of whom work in the utilities industry.

Mark Brueggenjohann, a spokesperson for the IBEW, told In These Times that his union didn’t have anything new to add to Redmond’s February testimony and doesn’t “anticipate any further statements” this month.

State senators also heard from industry groups that raised concerns, like Mitch Paley, testifying on behalf of the New York State Builders Association. Paley said while his colleagues support some aspects of the CCPA, they object to the prevailing wage requirements which would, by their own estimate, increase residential projects by 35 to 45%. The mandated solar requirements for new homes, he added, could increase the cost of each project by $10,000. This would “dramatically affect the ability to promote affordable homes in our region,” he argued.

Darren Suarez, the senior director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State testified against the bill, arguing that the proposed legislation would “increase energy costs, operational costs, and create uncertainty, compromising the global competitiveness of energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries.” He insisted the bill’s goals are not practical, and that the manufacturing sector should be included in developing the state’s climate policies.

A study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst found that New York transitioning to a 100 percent renewable economy could support 160,000 direct and indirect jobs initially and an average of about 150,000 in each year over the first decade. The institute also estimates that New York’s fossil fuel workforce is relatively small, comprised of roughly 13,000 individuals, out of a statewide workforce of around 9 million.

A threatening factor for CCPA supporters is that the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has introduced his own more moderate climate bill—the Climate Leadership Act. His legislation calls for the electricity sector to be carbon-free by 2040, but does not lay out a concrete plan for other sectors that emit greenhouse gas, like transportation. The two bills are dividing Democrats in Albany. Advocates for CCPA say Cuomo’s bill does not go far enough, and it’s imperative to legislate specific climate goals, so they are not “at the whim of the executive” anymore.

Swernoff of New York Renews says the governor’s office has expressed discomfort specifically with the prevailing wage standard for all green projects, the 40% investment into vulnerable and low-income communities, and setting a timeline for the whole economy, as opposed to just for electricity.

New York federal legislators are ramping up pressure on state lawmakers to pass the CCPA. On June 4, eleven Congressional representativesfrom New York, including Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez, sent a letter in support of the bill. “We believe the people-led Climate and Community Protection Act before you in Albany presents…an opportunity for New York,” they wrote. “An opportunity to cure the injustices of the past and to secure, with intent, a just transition into the future.” On June 5, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent her own letter in support of the bill.

Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, a steering committee member of New York Renews and the New York affiliate of Jobs with Justice, said she knows lawmakers are taking the CCPA very seriously right now, and she’s “hopeful this year its passage will become a reality.”

When it comes to the governor signing the bill, Silva-Farrell says she is less sure. “You never know where he’s going to be on an issue,” she said. “But one thing that is very clear is that if he wants to leave a strong legacy for his family, for his kids, and his grandkids, he should get behind this.”

This article was originally published by In These Times on June 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington D.C. Follow her on Twitter @rmc031

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Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway

June 12th, 2019 | Kenneth Quinnell

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. The first profile this year is Irene Soloway.

As a young adult in 1978, Irene Soloway moved from St. Louis to New York. She was working in a bar that had a significant clientele who were roofers. Soloway referred to the behavior of her boss at the bar as “appalling,” so she quit. The roofers in the bar that she knew jokingly offered her a roofing hammer. She took it as a challenge, and it made her want to show them that she could do the job.

Soloway did some roofing work, but hated it. She moved through various jobs in the construction industry, but settled on carpentry, both because she liked the work and the Carpenters union opened its doors to women. She became a member in 1979, when she began the Women in Apprenticeship Program. Soloway and other women were made to feel that they belong, that the program was more than tokenism.

At the time, not only were there few women in the building trades, even fewer of them were feminist Jewish New York lesbians. Soloway said that she rarely faced any direct discrimination. Instead, the concerns of rank-and-file members, women or otherwise, were largely ignored in her local at the time. She said:

The union and the apprenticeship in the Carpenters Union was now what I would consider sexist…we were never discriminated against within the school—but the specific issues that were barriers to women were never addressed specifically. So it was a second hand…diffuse kind of way that sexism was expressed.

Even when concerns were raised, leaders in the local were told to keep their concerns quiet, as they were all “brothers” in the union. Soloway explained:

We tried to inform the Carpenters Union of what we thought they needed to do to make the union receptive to women and to be inclusive. And we…became aware…that the Carpenters Union was not interested in fresh, new ideas coming from rank and file. We came in with ideas about having sexual harassment for the men in construction. We came in with ideas about having a Women’s Committee that would address the issues of women in construction. We actually came in with ideas about how the apprenticeship school could be more in touch with the apprentices around issues of ethnicity and race and issues….And what we were always told was: We’re all one Union and we’re all brothers, and there’s no need…to point out these differences because we’re all carpenters.

This was the first time she had been in a union and Soloway was very excited about it because she believed that it was a structure that was supposed to support her and provide a steady job. But her local at the time was very undemocratic and her concerns weren’t taken seriously. Despite the fact that she was often the only woman in the meetings, she kept attending for the next five years, never backing down from the agenda that she pursued.

In 1979, Soloway had been a founding member of United Tradeswomen, a group of diverse women working in the building trades. The organization was originally formed to recruit women into apprenticeship programs but quickly grew to provide support and advocacy for women who were starting to enter the construction industry in New York. Much of Soloway’s early activism took place outside the union hall.

Fear and intimidation weren’t limited to the union hall, they were also present in the workplace. Rumors were rampant that members who spoke out against union leadership were met with violence or had their careers and lives destroyed. Soloway wasn’t intimidated. By 1994, she noted in an interview that many of the things she and allies had pushed for at the time have come to pass:

Now almost fifteen years later—they actually are being addressed, so that in terms of, yes, there is actually a Women’s Committee now that’s…sanctioned to meet within the Carpenters school, and it’s advertised in the Carpenters paper that there is such a committee, and who the contact people are—so there’s, at least, an acknowledgement of this committee. And there is specific training—sexual harassment training—for men and being done by women who are Carpenters—graduates of our school—who are now teaching at the school—which is an important part of the program. And another one of our other ideas was about teaching labor history in the Carpenters school, which was then ignored, and now, you know, like history’s being taught in the Carpenters school.

During the mid-1980s, she got a job with the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation. The shift from at-will work that was left to the whims of the local’s power structure to a secure job with security was a major turning point in her life. When she started working for the city, she felt that her job was more secure and she could speak out more. In the civil service, they had elected stewards, not ones chosen by the power structure. She won the steward position after becoming outspoken about asbestos problems on her worksite. She started refusing to work in contaminated areas. Management wasn’t prepared for the problem and had to deal with it because of her. Several men came and asked her to run for steward. She won.

Soloway also helped produce the newspaper “Hard Hat News” and had to use pseudonyms like Brick Shields, to disguise her identity. She worked on a long, but successful, campaign to expand representation for rank-and-file members within the district council. In 1990, she appeared with other carpenters before the New York City Commission on Human Rights to testify about gender and race relations in the industry. She shared widespread reports that women in the industry faced threats of rape and physical violence and were subjected to pornography and insulting personalized graffiti on the worksite.

While she was working as a carpenter at Lincoln Hospital, she began taking pre-med classes and completed the coursework to become a physician’s assistant. She left carpentry and began work at a methadone clinic. She looked back on her activism and those of her fellow carpenters and what impact it had:

We still felt very much on the outside of the construction industry. It felt very kind of scary to us, but we kind of created cultural groups that supported ourselves and each other, that was able to move forward into that industry. Now I think that women are more into the industry, so I think we did do something. I think we did, like, move ourselves inside—from the outside to the inside—by creating an identity for ourselves, as well as educating ourselves and each other, and trying to educate the union about us….I think our presence and our strong continued presence for each other and ourselves was the main accomplishment of this group.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

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