Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘collective bargaining’

No Justice, No Peeps! Workers Walk Off the Job At Pennsylvania Peeps Factory

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Mario VasquezWorkers employed by candy manufacturer, Just Born Quality Confections, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, are on strike over the company’s pension plan proposal. The strike, workers allege, hits the company—which makes Peeps, as well as Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales candies—just as next year’s Easter orders are meant to be made.

“This is my livelihood,” says Alex Fattore, a mechanic who has been at Just Born since 1980. “We make Easter happen. I want to go back in there and make Easter happen.”

Roughly 400 workers walked off the job September 7, drawing a hard line against the company’s attempt to switch new hires to a 401(k), instead of the multiemployer pension plan that workers are presently a part of. They are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union Local 6.

The company claims that it’s concerned about the pension plan’s long-term viability. The plan reported assets of $5 billion and liabilities of $8 billion, and projected insolvency within 14 years, according to the company. The union, however, counters that the company is not allowed to put pension details on the negotiating table, per pension fund rules. The company is pushing its plan as a part of collective bargaining negotiations for an agreement that expired in June.

“The company is growing,” says chief shop steward Keith Turner, a machinist with 21 years of Just Born experience, alluding to its claims of double-digit growth. “It’s kind of ironic that they would turn around now and tell us that they can’t afford anything.”

Workers additionally claim that if the move to a 401(k) plan for new hires were to go into effect, it would only further weaken the multiemployer pension fund, forcing the fund’s trustees to reduce retiree benefits.

Just Born did not respond to a request to comment, but it released a statement that read, in part: “Our proposal—to have existing associates remain in the current pension plan and to have future hires participate in a 401(k) plan—provides a respectful path that honors our current associates’ existing benefits, and provides a sustainable retirement benefit for our future hires.”

“It’s the equivalent of—let’s say you signed a 30-year mortgage, and after 20 years you decide, you know I don’t want to pay this part of it anymore so I’m just not going to—and you just can’t do that,” Turner tells In These Times.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has called for a boycott of Just Born products.

While this is the first strike at a Just Born facility in decades, this is not the first time the company has attempted to impose a change in pension plans, according to union officials. Last year, the company implemented a final contract including the same 401(k) plan proposed at the Bethlehem plant, after declaring an impasse in its contract negotiations with the roughly 35 workers at its Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews factory in Philadelphia. BCTGM challenged the change with the National Labor Relations Board but was denied, leading the union to take the matter to federal court in a case that is still pending, a year and a half later.

“We’ll say, a few years from now, if we didn’t stand up and stand our ground—that we had the opportunity to stand our ground with this company and say we aren’t going to take this,” Fattore tells In These Times. “We’re going to stand our ground and we’re going to fight (for) what’s right.”

Since workers voted to strike, they have tried to keep up morale. An unfair labor practice charge was filed by Local 6 after allegedly discovering that an individual affiliated with Just Born contacted striking workers, posing as a union official, telling them to return to work. The complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, is pending.

Another, more public, company action that is causing substantial worry among striking Just Born workers is the hiring of replacement workers at the facility, with about 175 reportedly attending a job fair and another 600 applying for jobs online. As of press time, both sides have agreed to come back to the bargaining table alongside a federal mediator this week.

“We pretty well know from people inside, and from what we can see on the outside, that they haven’t made a Peep yet,” says Turner. “The longer that this goes on, the more squeezed that they are for their Peep production. We’re hoping that a little bit of hunger from us, and a little bit of hunger from them, makes something happen.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on September 27, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from southern California. He is a regular contributor to Working In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @mario_vsqz or email him atmario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.

It’s Game On for Grad Students After NLRB Rules They Can Unionize

Monday, September 12th, 2016

rebeccanathanson

December 5 fell on a Friday in 2014; in New York City, the air was crisp. At Columbia University, about 200 graduate student-workers pulled on hats and scarves to gather on the imposing steps of Low Library, which houses the university president’s office. While most stood in a block formation, holding signs declaring their department names, a small delegation went inside to deliver a letter to the president. It asked that he voluntarily recognize their union, the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110), which a majority of graduate employees supported.

When the administration declined to reply, GWC and the United Auto Workers (UAW), with which it is affiliated, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify their union. A complicated legal process ensued.

For more than a decade, the NLRB considered graduate employees to be students, not workers. As such, they did not have the same legal rights of most employees, including the right to organize. All that changed two weeks ago when the NLRB decision on the Columbia case finally came back, siding with the student-workers and their right to collective bargaining.

“Obviously, it’s a huge push for us and it’s caused a lot of excitement and enthusiasm,” says Ian Bradley-Perrin, a PhD student in sociomedical sciences and history, who has worked as both a teaching and research assistant.

After months of approaching people with hypotheticals, he says that he and his fellow organizers can now speak in concrete terms: “We’re going to have an election. We are now recognized as workers. So it’s just been talking to people about what a union actually means, how the union is organized democratically, how people’s interests will be represented in the union.”

Graduate teaching and research assistants at a handful of private universities have been working towards unionization for years. Their administrations have largely been able to ignore their actions, citing the NLRB’s designation of them as students. Now, however, their efforts can finally move forward. They have the legal right to hold union elections and then negotiate contracts, providing them a collective voice in the terms of their employment. Already, the NLRB’s ruling is invigorating existing campaigns and inspiring new ones.

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. (Rebecca Nathanson)

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. (Rebecca Nathanson)

Path to recognition

Graduate employees at many public universities have long enjoyed the right to unionize, but their peers at private universities have faced a long, serpentine route to achieve that same right. In 2001, graduate employees at New York University (NYU) became the country’s first to form a union and negotiate a contract at a private university, providing teaching assistants with wage increases and improved working conditions.

Three years later, graduate employees at Brown University attempted to do the same, but the NLRB, which had then shifted to a Republican majority, ruled that graduate employees were primarily students, not workers. In 2005, the NYU union’s contract expired and, using the 2004 Brown decision as precedent, the administration refused to negotiate a new one.

NYU’s administration kept firm to that stance until fall 2013, when it offered to voluntarily recognize the union. More than 98 percent of graduate employees voted in favor of the union, making it, once again, the only graduate employee union at a private university.

Organizers across the country were anxious to follow in their footsteps. Last month’s NLRB ruling gives them a shot in the arm.

At Harvard University, graduate student organizer Abigail Weil is particularly excited by the expansive way in which the NLRB defined a graduate employee in its ruling: “It’s broader and more inclusive than even we had hoped for. That’s just that many more people that we can talk to and fold into the bargaining unit as we create it.”

In its decision, the NLRB writes, “It is appropriate to extend statutory coverage to students working for universities covered by the (National Labor Relations) Act unless there are strong reasons not to do so.” It continues, “We will apply that standard to student assistants, including assistants engaged in research funded by external grants.” Not only does this include research assistants in addition to teaching assistants, but, Weil posits, it could also be interpreted as including working Masters students—and possibly even working undergraduates.

According to Weil, the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU-UAW) plans to file a petition for an election. She can already see a change in campus support.

“We’re thrilled at how many people were following the NLRB story,” she says. “Since that decision has come out, probably two-thirds of the people that we talk to now bring (it) up without us having to bring that up or explain it.”

Organizers at The New School, in New York City, are experiencing a similar phenomenon.

Like at Columbia, graduate employees at The New School asked their administration to voluntarily recognize their union. When that didn’t work, they too petitioned the NLRB for certification, only to hit the wall created a decade earlier by the Brown decision.

“We had our first meeting of the year on Monday and we had probably three times as many people show up,” says Eli Nadeau, a Masters student in the politics department at The New School. “We’re planning for an election because Columbia’s ruling covers us.”

Graduate workers at Cornell University took a slightly different approach to winning collective bargaining rights. While biding their time until the NLRB ruled on the Columbia case, they negotiated and signed a code of conduct with their administration in May. The document outlines the mechanisms by which a union election would take place and the behavior expected of both sides.

“Our next steps are really just working on the union. We are building outreach and finding out what our members’ concerns are,” explains Ben Norton, a PhD student in the music department and the communications and outreach chair of Cornell Graduate Students United, the university’s graduate employee union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

“We wasted no time”

Campaigns on numerous campuses have been galvanized by the Columbia decision, but graduate employees at Yale University took perhaps the swiftest action in its wake. Less than a week after the ruling, they filed a petition to hold an election to certify their union with the NLRB.

“We wasted no time. It was really exciting for the path to victory to open up and for us to really take advantage of it,” says Aaron Greenberg, a PhD student in the political science department and chair of Local 33-UNITE HERE, which represents Yale’s graduate teaching and research assistants.

In filing their petition, UNITE HERE and organizers at Yale are creating yet another variation on a graduate employee union. Rather than file as an entire unit of employees across the university, they did so department-by-department, starting with 10 departments.

“We really want a process that reflects how our work is organized. How much you get paid, what kind of work you do, what kind of hours you do really depend on the department,” explains Greenberg. Plus, he adds, “We’re hoping that by filing each department separately and starting with departments where the desire to unionize is overwhelmingly clear, we can avoid wasteful legal gamesmanship, unnecessary delays, and that the university will respect the democratic will of the members of these departments, who have made clear, time and time again, that they want a union.”

One of the next steps for graduate employees at many of the private universities hoping to take advantage of the recent NLRB decision will be working out the exact parameters of the bargaining unit: who it covers and who it excludes is not yet completely clear. But in the meantime, they will, for the first time in more than a decade, be able to move closer towards unionization without legal barriers—barriers which, organizers believe, were knocked down by the force of the organizing that took place in those intervening years.

“Labor law follows organizing, not the other way around,” says Weil. “We have been organizing to the full extent of our abilities, not the full extent of our legal rights. We’re happy to have those rights restored.”

This article was originally posted at InTheseTimes.com on September 9, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Rebecca Nathanson is a freelance writer in New York City. She has written for Al Jazeera America, n+1, The Nation, NewYorker.com,The Progressive, RollingStone.com, and more.

12 Recent Victories for Workers in Raising Wages and Collective Bargaining

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.

1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.

2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW Plant: Auto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.

3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.

4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.

5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.

6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.

7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.

8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.

9.  Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.

10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.

11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengthening financial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.

12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO America’s Unions on August 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He 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.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Ohio Extremists Next Target? College Athletes

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallNot content to only go after collective bargaining rightspensions andvoting rights, the extremists in Ohio are targeting a new group of their state’s residents, attempting to pre-empt any attempt by college athletes to organize and express their rights. After the National Labor Relations Board ruled that players at Northwestern University were employees of the school, and could thus form a union, Ohio’s right-wingers took action to tryto stop athletes at Ohio colleges and universities from following suit, proposing a bill that would specify that college athletes aren’t employees in Ohio.

There haven’t been any reported discussions of athletes in Ohio attempting to follow in the Northwestern players’ footsteps and the bill has a way to go before it could become law, but maybe the audacity of these people will inspire college athletes at schools like Ohio State to stand up for their rights before the legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R) can take them away.

In a press release, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said:

Once again, Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives are spending time trying to engineer punitive proposals instead of working to move Ohio forward, create jobs and improve our struggling economy. This time they are attempting to pre-empt athletes at public colleges and universities from being declared employees. Is this really what Ohioans are worried about? This a labor law matter, which may or may not become an issue, and should it become one there will be plenty of public debate. If Republicans in the House feel compelled to address this matter, they should try to engage in a productive way by dealing with the real concerns of fairness and safety where the players and university leaders have expressed common themes for change. A good place to start a public discussion would be to allow athletes who get injured in their sport to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under the law.

Mike Gillis, a spokesperson for the state federation, added:

There’s millions being made off the work and also blood, sweat and tears that these athletes endure. They should be offered every protection that employees enjoy, if not more, especially because they are not paid.

Meanwhile, the Colorlines points out Shabazz Napier, a senior on the University of Connecticut men’s basketball national championship team, often goes to bed “hungry.” Read more from the Colorlines.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 8, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

T-Mobile US Workers Unite for Respect

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Image: Mike HallWith a new website—TMobileWorkersUnited.org—workers at T-Mobile US are connecting with each other to build strength in their drive for workplace justice and respect.

Working with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), T-Mobile Workers United (TU) is an alliance of hundreds of call center representatives, retail associates and technicians who are standing up to discuss the issues and challenges they face at the new T-Mobile US, a merger of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS.

For the past several years, T-Mobile workers say they have faced an extensive anti-union campaign by the company that last year closed seven call centers in the United States and shipped more than 3,300 jobs overseas.

Before the merger, MetroPCS shared T-Mobile’s U.S. job-killing record. The company “outsourced all of its customer contact center services to maintain low operating expenses” through a partnership with Telvista, a call center outsourcer. Good American jobs are now going to Mexico, Antigua, Panama and the Philippines, according to MetroPCS’s 10-K filing.

Ronald Ellis, a T-Mobile US call center worker in Nashville, Tenn., writes on the new website:

With the recent acquisition of MetroPCS (9 million no-contract customers, and no customer service based in the USA), the winds of change are blowing. T-Mobile USA stopped employees’ raises and stopped the phone incentive for employees. We feel if we don’t unite soon, more call centers may soon be on the chopping blocks for downsizing.

The workers say they want this new company to succeed, and they believe that justice and respect in the workplace are essential for that success.

In 2011, CWA, ver.di, the German union that represents workers at T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telekom, and a coalition of community and labor groups around the world, partnered on an international campaign to win workers a voice and respect at T-Mobile. Read more about the global campaign here and here.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 19th, 2013.  Reposted 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

Oil Drilling Boom Boosts Boilermakers, Other Shipyard Unions

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Bruce Vail

Unionized workers at Aker Philadelphia Shipyard breathed a collective sigh of relief late last week with news that an agreement to build as many as eight new oil tankers has been finalized. The investment, estimated to be worth $1 billion, should keep the yard humming for the next four years.

The contract to build the new ships means that some 1,000 workers will continue to be regularly employed beyond next year, when the yard will complete most work on two crude oil tankers now under construction for a shipping subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp. Recent years have seen some lean times at the shipyard, with employment falling to 400 as recently as 2011 when new orders for vessels were hard to come by, says Aker spokesperson Kelly Whittaker.

“It’s feast or famine in this business, so we’re really happy they [Aker] got the contract,” says Phillipp J. Evans, a regional representative for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers. The Boilermakers union represent about two-thirds of the workers at the Aker yard, Evans estimates, with the remainder represented by local units of 10 other unions organized into the Philadelphia Metal Trades Council.

The Aker Philadelphia contract is welcome news also because it confirms a national rebound in commercial tanker construction, adds Ron Ault, President of the AFL-CIO’s Metal Trades Department (MTD), which represents unionized shipbuilders around the country. In May, shipyard employees in San Diego got a similar boost when a company called American Petroleum Tankers signed a contract for new vessels at the General Dynamics NASSCO yard there. Some 800 workers are expected to be hired to complete that contract, according to a NASSCO statement.

Rumors are rife that there are further tanker orders in the offing, most of which are related to an unusual rise in the U.S. production of crude oil, Ault says. Increased shale oil drilling—largely in the Bakken region of North Dakota and the Eagle Ford geologic formation in Texas—are flooding the domestic market with new crude, and the oil industry is scrambling to line up tankers to move the crude to refineries and then ship the refined petroleum  products to consumers.

Largely absent from most discussions of the tanker resurgence is the environmental impact of the drilling increase. Most of the new oil is thought to displace imports from the Middle East or Africa, so there appears to be little net impact on total oil consumption or the resultant air pollution. With a decision due soon from federal government authorities on whether the Keystone XL pipeline will go forward, it is a tricky moment in relations between environmentalist and organized labor, and neither side seems anxious to worsen the situation by introducing new, potentially divisive issues. And for the Boilermakers and other unions that build tankers and equipment for the energy industry, environmental concerns rarely register.

Shipping industry experts are startled by the tanker boom. Tim Colton, a retired shipbuilding executive who writes the popular blog Maritime Memos, commented Aug. 9:

It’s amazing to think that it’s not very long ago that it was safe to say that all the… (U.S.-flag commercial tanker construction) was done, which it was, and here we are building ships like crazy, with a bunch more still to be ordered.  This upheaval in the domestic product trades is the most exciting thing that’s happened in the industry in decades, especially as there’s been almost no growth in these trades since the 1970s.

The excitement was accentuated in June when Reuters reported that ExxonMobil had chartered one U.S.-flag tanker at the astonishingly high rate of $100,000 per day. Controlled by the Koch Shipping and Supply Company (owned by the notorious Koch brothers), the vessel American Phoenix was reported to be earning 50 percent more than similar vessels at the same time last year. With charter rates at these levels, operating U.S.-flag tankers is estimated to be a very profitable enterprise that will spur construction of additional ships.

The lively tanker market also has an effect on the barge industry, which along with pipelines and railroads is an important player in the oil transport sector. For example, barge builder Jeffboat reported in late July that it was adding about 100 new jobs to help fill orders for tank barges. Coincidentally, Teamsters Local 89 ratified a new contract covering about 800 of its members at the Jeffersonville, Ind. yard at about the same time.

Back in Philadephia, Boilermakers’ Evans adds that the new tanker contract there should provide some respite also from political attacks on Aker Shipyard, and also on the Jones Act, the law that requires ships carrying cargo between U.S. ports to be built here and crewed with U.S.civilian seafarers.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have been subjected to intense criticism since 1998 for a series of efforts to financially aid the shipyard’s conversion from a military facility to a commercial yard, and the unions have come in for their share of attacks, he says. Such attacks have been most intense when the yard has struggled, while the benefits of such aid are most apparent when the yard’s order book is full.

Attacks on the Jones Act itself (particularly from big business interests and their Republican Party allies) are almost constant, adds MTD’s Ault. Complaints typically focus on the high cost of building ships in U.S. yards, compared to dramatically lower prices for similar vessels from countries like South Korea or China. But American labor has always argued that the ships are worth the price because they support U.S. jobs and are crucial to the country’s manufacturing base. Shortages of U.S.-flag tankers invariably prompt new calls for doing away with the Jones Act, Ault says, but strong labor union support for the law has been successful in blocking repeal efforts in the past. Today’s unusual conditions in the U.S. domestic tanker market can be expected to draw fresh fire against the Jones Act, he predicts, and unions will have to stand ready to defend the law again.

This article originally appeared on Working in These Times on August 14, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

8 Ways That ALEC Is Targeting Working Families

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallInformation about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in secret to push state-level policy to more extreme levels is coming to light more and more and America’s working families are starting to stand up to the group’s corporate-driven agenda. While ALEC’s agenda is all over the policy map, the organization has a particular focus on pushing new laws that attack working families and undercut the rights of workers, both in the workplace and in retirement.  Here are eight of the most dangerous and most widespread ways that ALEC is targeting workers and their right to a voice on the job.

8. Voter ID Act: Laws directly based on or similar to ALEC’s Voter ID Act have been introduced in recent years in nearly every state, with more than a dozen states passing or strengthening such laws in the past three years. These laws disproportionately affect working families, senior citizens, people of color and residents of rural areas and help elect legislators who vote against the rights and needs of workers.

7. Paycheck Protection Bills: ALEC has at least four different versions of this legislation, each one more extreme than the last, that were introduced 20 times in various states in 2013. These bills range from requiring that each employee sign an annual form authorizing that their union dues be allowed to be used for political purposes to preventing payroll deductions from being used for union dues. These bills provide no additional rights to workers and do nothing more than weaken the ability of workers to collectively bargain by depriving unions of the funds they need to fight on behalf of their members.

6. Direct Union Assaults: Through model legislation such as the Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act and the De-certification Elections Act, introduced in Idaho and Arizona, respectively, ALEC is seeking to make public employees vote over and over again to retain their union status, giving ALEC and other groups the opportunity to flood workers with anti-union propaganda.

5. Public Employees’ Portable Retirement Option Act: Through this and similar bills, 10 states have attempted to weaken or eliminate defined-benefit pension plans and replace them with defined-contribution plans, which make retirees depend on the market for how much money they have for retirement and health care.

4. Council on Efficient Government Act: As Orwellian a name as any in the ALEC arsenal, this legislation does nothing but use government money to create a commission to figure out ways to privatize government services. In other words, yet another example of ALEC attempting to get taxpayer money into the hands of private corporations without any accountability or taxpayer recourse.

3. “Right to Work” Act: This incredibly misleadingly titled legislation gives no one any new rights and does nothing but prevent employees from paying for the benefits that unions earn on their behalf. So-called “right to work” for less states end up paying their workers a lot less than states that don’t have such laws. In 2013, 15 states introduced this legislation.

2. Parent Trigger Act: These laws give parents the option, once a majority of parents sign a petition, to change a public school into a charter school, give students vouchers or close the school. Seven states have passed parent trigger laws similar to the ALEC bill. Parent Trigger laws force parents to make a bad choice—either stick with a poorly performing school, or take drastic actions that are likely to make things worse, do little to help students and are a boon for corporate groups that run private schools. Meanwhile one of the best tools for helping working families reach the middle class—public education—gets less and less funding.

1. Wage Protections: In 14 states, ALEC model legislation attacking wage protections were introduced. The bills sought to weaken or eliminate laws that require prevailing wages, living wages or minimum wages. Big corporations heavily support these efforts, which would only serve to lower wages for workers.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, working families and other opponents of the ALEC agenda will be rallying at the conservative group’s convention in Chicago. Those who are in the area can RSVP online.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 7, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Why the Revival of US Labor Might Start with Nonunion Workers

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

abdFor workers in America, it can be hard to know where to turn when a boss pays you late or not at all, doesn’t provide benefits, or just yells at you for no good reason.

That’s why a Working America, a “community affiliate” of the AFL-CIO that focuses specifically on nonunion workers, launched a website last month that makes it easy to get that kind of information. FixMyJob.com is a bit like WebMD, but instead of typing in your aches and pains, you tell it about problems at your workplace. Launched on June 5, the site has already garnered 5,000 visitors, according to Working America organizer Chris Stergalas.

After choosing from a comprehensive list of workplaces and problems, visitors to FixMyJob.com get a set of resources and options for taking action. While unionization is a part of the solution for many problems, the site also informs workers about labor laws and instructs them on how to advance proposals to defend their rights. The site is a part of Working America’s expanded new campaign to organize people in their communities in all 50 states, says Executive Director Karen Nussbaum.

In both online and offline campaigns, Nussbaum said, the aim of Working America is to reach beyond the workplace and rally support at the local level for a pro-labor agenda. Working America’s list of priorities includes living wage laws, expanded health care, adequately funded public schools, and the protection of voting rights.

Before the launch of Working America, Nussbaum had served as founder and director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women; as director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor; and as an advisor to former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. I recently spoke with her about her vision for Working America, about FixMyJob.com, and about what the 50-state expansion means for the prospects of union revival.

Working America was founded in 2003 partly as an answer to the question of how to mobilize people who are not union members but would benefit from activism by and for working people. Nussbaum said that, from the beginning, her staff “concentrated on talking to workers in their communities.” Scoring success in mobilizing blue-collar voters for electoral campaigns, the organization created a foundation of members, and it is increasingly attempting to mobilize them around broader issues like working conditions, paid sick leave, and the right to join unions.

She added that the ultimate goal of Working America is “finding the connections with collective bargaining.” But she’s experimenting with different ways of organizing that might lead there. “It’s about taking whatever path opens on the way.”

In past years, Working America focused on battleground states during elections. But regional and statewide labor federations have pushed the organization to expand to all 50 states over the next five years. At first, Nussbaum said, that goal seemed “preposterous,” but she has come to embrace it. Ultimately, she said, she appreciated the strategic value of supporting local labor structures as they connect with community allies and work on issues that go beyond a single workplace.

One reason why the 50-state strategy is necessary is the national proliferation of so-called “right-to-work” laws and attacks on voting rights, two issues that Working America has taken up in Pittsburgh, Penn..

Nussbaum describes the approach taken by activists leading the Pittsburgh campaign:

These are a group of mostly white people in their 40s and 50s. They decided that voter protection actually was the key issue for them. Their group set a goal of reaching a million people in the Pittsburgh area on the issue. Part of that million was going to be reached by doing letters to the editor and circulation of the newspaper and so on. It also included things like a guy who said, “I go to my hardware store every weekend and everybody there knows me, so I will set up a table at the hardware store every weekend,” which is what he did. Another woman said that she dropped her father off at adult daycare every day, and so she would talk to the workers and other people at the adult daycare center.

This type of organizing taps into the existing frustrations that people have—in the Pittsburgh case obstacles to voting—and showing them how they can make a difference. “It’s everybody recognizing their own networks,” Nussbaum said. “I think that’s the key to organizing, isn’t it?”

She explained that Working America encourages people to see themselves as leaders within their own social circles, and, as it did in the case of the man in the hardware store, this recognition makes it easier to take action.

Nussbaum sees FixMyJob.com as a complement to these offline campaigns and as a means for introducing people to the labor movement. “Some people who use these tools will get turned on and they will become activists for life,” she said. “Some will fail, but it will help create a new environment that I think supports what we’re already beginning to see bubble up.”

This article was originally posted on Yes! Magazine on July 8th, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Amy B. Dean is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations.  Dean has worked for nearly two decades at the cross section of labor and community based organizations linking policy and research with action and advocacy

American Crystal Sugar Workers Ratify Contract

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Image: Mike HallLocked-out workers at American Crystal Sugar plants in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa will soon be returning to work after they ratified a contract late last week.

The company locked out 1,300 workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), in August 2011. John Riskey, BCTGM Local 167G, said:

This means Crystal Sugar’s skilled, experienced workers will be transitioning back to the factories to start repairing the damage that’s been done over the past 20 plus months. BCTGM members thank all who have supported our stand for justice and dignity and who have helped our families survive these hard times.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the mills have continued operating with temporary, replacement workers, but the company’s operating costs have risen since the lockout began. Riskey told the paper:

The lockout was dragging the company down…somebody needed to step up to the plate and put families and communities first and especially our children….It’s time to move on.

In other bargaining news, members of the San Francisco Symphony ratified a new 26-month contract. The musicians, members of American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) Local 6, were forced out on strike in March for 18 days before returning to work when a tentative agreement was reached.

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

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

New York City Fast-Food Workers: Everyone Deserves a Living Wage

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Richard TrumkaI was honored to be in New York City yesterday supporting Wendy’s workers take to the streets for a living wage. They joined hundreds of workers in other fast-food joints across New York City for the largest strike the fast-food industry had ever seen.

Their argument is simple: every worker deserves a living wage. And they understood the best way to do that is to come together to build collective power.

Their actions inspired me for two reasons. Speaking with them, it was clear their concerns were the same concerns that we fight for every day on the picket line or at the bargaining table.

These men and women work hard. Fast-food workers are being mistreated, and they’re underpaid. They feed our country. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. In New York City, workers in the fast-food industry only make 25% of the money they need to survive.

Second, it wasn’t a coincidence that they chose to strike on April 4, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Dr. King spent his last days rallying on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., who were fighting for the same respect and dignity these workers are asking for. He stood for a dream that every worker can believe in—whether he or she belongs to a union or not.

Yesterday, like those sanitation workers did 45 years ago, we carried signs that read, “I AM A MAN,” as well as “I AM A WOMAN.” It’s a reminder that while we’ve come a long way since 1968, the struggle for economic fairness never stops. And I am proud to stand with every worker who steps up to the plate in this fight.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 5, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Richard Trumka has been the AFL-CIO president since September 2009. He served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995. Trumka was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1989. At the time of his election to the secretary-treasurer post, he was serving his third term as president of the Mine Workers (UMWA). At the UMWA, Trumka led two major strikes against the Pittston Coal Co. and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. The actions resulted in significant advances in employee-employer cooperation and the enhancement of mine workers’ job security, pensions and benefits.

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