Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘AFL-CIO Now’

Social Security COLA at Risk with Chained CPI Proposals

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Today’s announcement that Social Security recipients will receive a modest increase (1.7%) in their cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was a small but welcome boost for seniors who are seeing prices increase on necessities, from health care to food. However, even this modest increase could be jeopardized if proposals floating around in Washington to “tweak” the current COLA formula by tying it to the so-called “chained CPI” are passed.

Senior advocates and retirement experts say the current formula, the CPI-W, is already inadequate. Higher health care costs and expenses seniors face are not accurately addressed in the CPI-W.

The Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director Edward Coyle says:

The current formula, used for today’s announcement, already badly understates the inflation experienced by seniors and disabled Americans, who make up the majority of Social Security beneficiaries. However, the change some in Congress want would exacerbate this flaw in a way that is particularly damaging for women who, because of their greater life expectancy, receive benefits over a longer period of time.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare says:

The typical 65-year-old, who filed for benefits at 62, would lose about $130 per year in benefits. By the time that senior reaches 95, the annual benefit cut will be almost $1,400, which is a 9.2 percent cut.

The AFL-CIO, along with the Strengthen Social Security coalition, sent a letter to Congress today expressing its opposition to the chained CPI:

The purpose of an inflation adjustment is to ensure that the value of Social Security and other modest but vital benefits does not erode over time. The proposal to switch to the chained CPI would, over time, slash the benefits of both current and future beneficiaries. Specifically, it would cut the basic benefit—currently averaging a modest $13,500 for all beneficiaries—and break the bipartisan promise not to cut the benefits of current seniors.

Although some in Congress may say this is a modest tweak or a change to more accurately reflect inflation, nothing could be further from the truth.

A chained CPI means cuts are larger the longer you receive benefits.

Says the Strengthen Social Security coalition:

One of the most problematic aspects of the chained CPI is that the cuts are larger the longer you receive benefits – meaning that the chained CPI would disproportionately hurt many women, veterans, people with disabilities, and others. For example, veterans wounded in combat and others disabled at young ages would be disproportionately hurt. Seniors, especially women, who live long lives would also be hurt disproportionately.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council supports an across-the-board increase in Social Security benefits.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on October 16, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora recently joined the AFL-CIO as the blog/social Media editor. Before that, she was a Social Security and Medicare advocate for a national seniors’ organization.

Canada Labor Laws Support Workers' Freedom to Form Unions

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Credit: Joe Kekeris

“>In 1960, the same number of workers were in unions in Canada and in the United States. After that, unionization in this country started a steep decline. Yet Canada’s unionization rate has held fairly steady. By 2011, 11.8 percent of U.S. workers were in unions, compared with 29.7 percent in Canada (click chart to enlarge).

So what happened here?

According to the authors of a new Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report released today, that question can be answered in two words: employer opposition.

Compared to Canada, many workers in the United States are not able to exercise their right to freely join and form unions and participate in collective bargaining, in large part because of employer opposition, which current labor law fails to adequately address.

Protecting Fundamental Labor Rights: Lessons from Canada for the United States” finds that Canada has two labor practices the United States does not:

1. Card-check recognition. Several jurisdictions in Canada have card-check authorization, in which a majority of employees at a workplace join unions by signing union authorization cards and submitting them to the labor board for verification. In the United States, petitioning the labor board with signed cards is typically just the first step in the process. Unless an employer chooses to voluntarily recognize a union, an election will be scheduled and held. During the time between the petition and the election, which is often delayed by employer opposition and can last for months, employers usually run anti-union campaigns— often committing illegal acts of coercion, intimidation or firing—in an attempt to discourage their employees from voting to unionize. The research presented here suggests that decreasing the opportunities for employers to conduct illegal practices—by implementing card-check authorization in the United States—would be the most effective way to curb this behavior.

2. First contract arbitration. Even after a union has been formed, employers continue to erect barricades in the face of employees’ wishes to collectively bargain. Although employers are required by law to bargain “in good faith,” in reality, they can delay the process with little to no penalty for doing so, with the hope of remaining “union-free.” First contract arbitration allows for a way through stalling tactics and bargaining impasse.

Check out the full CEPR report.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 28, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Locked-Out Crystal Sugar Worker: 'We Didn't Do Anything to Deserve This'

Monday, August 27th, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Michael Frank headed over to a rally in East Grand Forks, Minn., last night, one of many he’s taken part in over the past year. Frank, along with 1,300 other workers, was locked out of the American Crystal Sugar factory a year ago, and last night’s event was part of the workers’ ongoing efforts to urge the sugar beet processing company return to the bargaining table.

“They don’t want to sit down with us,” said Frank, a 33-year veteran with with company and currently day warehouse foreman. “We didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

The company locked out the workers Aug. 1, 2011, during bargaining talks over a successor contract between American Crystal Sugar and five local unions of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM) at various locations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.

BCTGM members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s final offer last year, which included significant increases to workers’ health care costs and major changes to job security, including the right to outsource work and seniority language. (Sign a petition calling on American Crystal Sugar CEO Dave Berg to treat workers fairly and return to the bargaining table.)

Before locking out the workers, the company was hugely profitable, with $1.5 billion in fiscal 2011 net earnings, up from $1.2 billion in 2010. In 2011, CEO Dave Berg took in nearly $2.5 million in total compensation.

American Crystal has replaced the workers, bringing in people from around the country and creating tension throughout the once close-knit community. In small farming towns like East Grand Forks, it’s easy to run into someone who just took your job.

As Frank describes it:

We’re basically another middle class getting beat up here in the valley. What used to be family isn’t any more.

It’s also hard to imagine newcomers performing such highly skilled work. Before he became a foreman, Frank’s job involved molasses desurgarization—a new process by which more sugar is extracted than ever before by running molasses through resin beads.

Although clearly frustrated by his many months off the job, Frank, 52, remains solid in his commitment to stick with his co-workers and demand Crystal Sugar give workers a fair shake. A widow who’s caring for his three children, ages 6, 9 and 12. Frank is an active member of his local union’s solidarity committee, a group that reaches out to the Red River Valley community to mobilize participation in events and to fundraise for the families affected by the lockout.

American Crystal Sugar is a big player on Capitol Hill, giving more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions to members of both parties since 2011, according to opensecrets.org. The company is a beneficiary of a government policy that restricts imports of sugar from overseas, writes Minnesota Public Radio News.

This week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to 177 members of Congress who have accepted campaign contributions from Crystal Sugar this year and urged them to send the company’s money back. In it, Trumka writes:

Rather than negotiate with BCTGM to provide a fair share of the earnings to the workers who were instrumental in generating them, this company and its management have embarked upon a path designed to break the union itself. David Berg, the current CEO, has likened the workers and their contract to a “cancerous tumor.” I am sure you do not approve of this blatant disregard for working families and their communities.

Many unions have contributed to the strike fund, and the workers have received support from throughout their communities. Rep. Keith
Ellison (D-Minn.) called on the company to return to the bargaining table and pointed out that the workers “stood shoulder to
shoulder with the company to fight for a better sugar program in the farm bill just because that’s how dedicated they are.” Yet,

What have they got in return? They’ve gotten locked out.

(Watch a video of Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinksi calling Crystal Sugar CEO Berg—and you can do the same: 218-236-4400.)

Members of the unions’ “road warriors” group travels throughout the country to get out their message and build support. In May, two-dozen locked-out workers traveled from Drayton, N.D., for a seven-day, 200-mile journey to Moorhead, Minn., headquarters of American Crystal Sugar. Earlier this year, workers from American Crystal joined locked out workers from Cooper Tire in a 1,000-mile Journey for Justice from
Fargo, N.D., to Findlay, Ohio. The journey highlighted the corporate greed behind the lockouts, and the growing drive by corporate CEOs to drive down wages and benefits to pad their own pockets.

Speaking at last night’s rally, Anthony, 15, son of a locked-out worker, said Crystal Sugar would learn that

When you pick a fight with one working family, you are picking a fight with all working families.

Contribute to the strike relief fund.
Sign a petition calling on American Crystal Sugar CEO Dave Berg to treat workers fairly and return to the bargaining table.
Get the latest updates on the Crystal Sugar lockout.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Minimum Wage: Not Just for Kids

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

As Congress considers raising the nation’s minimum wage, it’s a good time to point out that it’s not just for teens earning pocket money. At $7.25 an hour, the current minimum wage hasn’t been raised for three years. Proposals in both the House and Senate would increase the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by July 1, 2014.

A report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) points out that

87.9 percent of those affected nationally by increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.80 are 20 years of age and older. The share of those affected who are 20 or older varies by state, from a low of 77.1 percent in Massachusetts to a high of 92.4 percent in Florida (and 93.9 percent in the District of Columbia).

That means people trying to support themselves and their families are being paid an hourly wage that right now has less buying power than in 1997. Further, writes Holly Sklar, director of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage:

At $7.25 an hour, today’s full-time minimum wage retail worker, security guard, child care worker or health aide makes just $15,080 a year. Last century’s 1968 minimum wage worker made $21,944 a year, adjusted for inflation.

Take note of which House and Senate members scream against raising the minimum wage. They’re likely the same ones funded by corporate giants whose CEOs last year got a 16 percent raise—with an average compensation of $10.5 million.

The AFL-CIO is urging Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 (read letter here) as are noted economists.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on July 30, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union (the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism (covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia) she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

10 Facts About the Minimum Wage

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Jackie TortoraToday marks the third year minimum wage workers haven’t seen a raise. While the price of just about everything else has skyrocketed (milk, eggs, health care, college), full-time minimum wage workers are barely making more than $15,000 a year.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) is encouraging workers, advocates and community members to take action today by rallying to support a minimum wage increase. Events are taking place all over the country, and NELP has an online petition you can sign here.

Here are 10 facts you need to know from NELP about the minimum wage:

$10.55
How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25. Learn more.

$15,080
The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.

0
The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week. Learn more.

3
The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the past 30 years.

19
The number of states (including the District of Columbia) that have raised their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.

10
The number of states that annually increase their state minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living.

67
The percentage of Americans who support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, according to an October 2010 poll.

64 in 100 vs. 4 in 100
What are the chances an adult minimum wage worker is a woman vs. the chances a Fortune 500 CEO is a woman? Learn more.

76
The percentage of Missouri voters that voted to increase and index the Missouri minimum wage in the 2006 ballot initiative.

$2.13
The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses, nail salon workers or parking attendants.

Learn more about the National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on July 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora recently joined the AFL-CIO as the blog/social Media editor. Before that, she was a Social Security and Medicare advocate for a national seniors’ organization.

U.S. Chamber to Members: It’s Cool to Make Your Employees Work on Christmas

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

This is a cross-post by Christy Setzer from U.S. Chamber Watch.

Dragging a little today? Desperately trying to focus on work while wishing you were still on a beach? Just be glad you don’t work for a member company of the U.S. Chamber of Congress—you might not have gotten that vacation at all.

In a toolkit for small business owners on the Chamber’s website, the lobbying organization advises modern-day Scrooge employers: “If you need to, you can require that [employees] work on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, or any other traditional holiday.”

It’s a policy that other large corporations have already taken heat for. Over Thanksgiving, an enterprising Target employee called attention to the consequences of ever-earlier Black “Friday” sales (some starting on Thursday evening) for store employees: not getting to enjoy the holiday with their own families. More than 200,000 employees and customers signed a petition asking Target to drop the family-unfriendly policy, with copycat petitions formed against Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and other big-box stores with similar holiday hours.

The Chamber’s advice may not be surprising for an organization that’s also opposed the 40-hour workweek, paid family and medical leave, and even the federal minimum wage, but no doubt its member companies are taking note: Listen to this particular Dear Abby, only with a great deal of caution.

This blog appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on January 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.


Revive the Dream

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Post authored by AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Lee Saunders

On the eve of the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders writes why the nation needs to revive King’s dream.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to gather this weekend in Washington, D.C., for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. Few can doubt that this is an extraordinary and historic moment. Only four other Americans—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt—have been given this honor: a national memorial on the hallowed grounds of our National Mall. As the first memorial to honor an African American, and the first to honor an individual who was never elected to high office, the memorial for Dr. King stands as a symbol of progress and purpose, dedicated to a man whose vision and courage transformed our nation and gave hope to the world.

The dedication this weekend also coincides with the 48th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was at that march where Dr. King delivered the speech that proclaimed his vision of an America that would live up to the words of our founders and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

“I have a dream,” he said, “it is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.” On that August day, Dr. King also challenged the economic injustices that existed in America. He spoke of Americans living “in a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” and of those who languish “in the corners of American society,” living as “an exile in his own land.”

Too many of those challenges remain in our society today. In the depths of the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, middle- and lower-income Americans have been hit hard. Unemployment among young, African American males, for example, is above 30 percent. As National Urban League President Marc Morial noted last month on “Meet the Press,” unemployment among blacks has actually worsened since the start of the recovery.

Dr. King was a champion of both civil rights and economic justice. They were both essential parts of his Dream for America. That is why he fought so strongly for the right of American workers to organize and bargain collectively. He was a longtime supporter of unions and understood the role of organized labor in creating the middle class and forging opportunity for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. As he said in a 1961 speech to the delegates at the AFL-CIO Convention: “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had an especially close bond with Dr. King. On three occasions in 1968, he traveled to Memphis to stand with the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733—thirteen hundred men who went on strike to secure their right to collective bargaining, to decent wages and to dignity on the job. They were public employees earning poverty wages, working long days in back-breaking labor. When the workers went on strike, they were risking everything. But the signs they carried, “I AM A MAN,” made it clear: Their action was about much more than wages. It was also about dignity.

Dr. King understood. “All labor has dignity,” he told the AFSCME members in Memphis. “You are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” Their cause was crucial to him because, as he said: “What good does being able to sit at a lunch counter do if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” Dr. King recognized that civil rights and workers’ rights are intertwined. If workers do not have a voice in the workplace or the right to stand up for themselves to negotiate at the bargaining table, then the voices of some people—those with wealth and power—matter more than others.

Dr. King would be gratified today that millions of Americans share his commitment to social and economic justice. Moreover, they are mobilizing in numbers that have been rarely seen since the 1960s. Throughout the country, we see the beginnings of a Main Street Movement that will reinvigorate and revive Dr. King’s hope for a beloved community, where all Americans work together for the common good. We see it in the opposition mounting in more than a dozen states to right-wing efforts to limit the ability of minorities, the poor, seniors and students to vote by passing Draconian voter-identification bills. Nearly a half century after Dr. King’s dream of voting rights was enacted into law, Americans will not stand for backdoor efforts to return to Jim Crow.

The Main Street Movement has brought together working families, civil rights organizations, church groups, students, environmentalists, the LGBT community and others to counter the efforts of radical elected officials, who have tried to turn back the clock to a time when only the powerful had a voice and a future. As we commemorate Dr. King with a remarkable memorial on the National Mall, we need to remember the challenge he posed to all of us: to create a nation that provides every citizen with the opportunity to stand with dignity. We need to be involved in this struggle and to do everything in our power to revive the dream for which Dr. King gave his life.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on August 24, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

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