Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘EFCA’

Ignoring Courts, Arizona Gov. and Legislature Move Anti-Union Measure

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Last week, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s July ruling that a proposed state constitutional amendment that sought to restrict how workers can vote in union representation elections was unconstitutional. Not surprisingly, it’s being pushed by opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act.

But that hasn’t stopped Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the Republican-controlled state legislature from taking a swing at workers and their unions. Brewer called a special session of the legislature and the state Senate and House today passed a measure to put the anti-union amendment on the November ballot.

Talk about fear of unions and real worker rights, even if passed, the amendment wouldn’t go into effect unless Congress passes and the president signs the Employee Free Choice Act.

Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, tells the Arizona Republic:

They’re making a law that pre-empts a law that hasn’t even passed.

Of course knowing Brewer’s and the legislature’s anti-immigrant hysteria, their anti-union panic isn’t a real shock.

For more on the special session and the amendment from the Arizona AFL-CIO click here.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on August 11, 2010. 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.

‘Undercover Boss’: A Fairy Tale That Ignores Grim Reality

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Image: Mike HallAs kids, we all loved the sugar-coated fairy tales of handsome and brave princes rescuing beautiful princesses from despotic kings.

The new CBS “reality” show “Undercover Boss” that debuted last night after the Super Bowl is a 21st century sugar-coated fairy tale. But this time, the brave prince is actually a CEO who goes undercover as a regular worker near the bottom of the food chain. There he finds how hard and dirty the job is; how stifling and draconian the company’s workplace rules are; and how crappy the pay is.

Then after walking so many miles in an employee’s work boots, the boss sees the light and promotes workers, raises pay, eases rules and promises a new found respect for all workers.

(If your boss isn’t going undercover anytime soon, be sure to check out American Rights at Work’s new website, Fix Our Jobs, where you can vent about how lousy—and even how great—your job is and learn how to make it better. Click here to watch the video.)

But just like our childhood stories ignored the dark, bloody and scary Brothers Grimm originals, “Undercover Boss” ignores the grim reality of too many of today’s workplaces.

“Undercover Boss” is a sweet, happy-ending tale for a handful of workers, but make-believe for millions of others. The best way to make workplace improvement and worker rights a reality is with the Employee Free Choice Act, that would restore the right of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

The bosses portrayed on the show may indeed be sincere and a handful of workers will enjoy the benefits of their foxhole conversions. But what about the millions of workers whose CEO’s will never be on TV? That’s where unions come in: to ensure employees have a voice at the workplace, with family-supporting pay and affordable health care and retirement security.

Along with the restoring the freedom to form unions, rebuilding the middle class means fighting for health care legislation, strong enforcement of wage and hour laws, holding Wall Street accountable and most importantly creating jobs. Unions and their members at the forefront of all these battles—out in the open—not undercover.

*This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on February 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

**For more information on the Employee Free Choice Act visit the Workplace Fairness EFCA Resource Page.

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. I 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. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

U.S. Chamber's "Card Check Compromise" Poll Compromises the Facts

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Image: Kate ThomasYesterday, the U.S. Chamber released a “nationwide poll,” which claimed to reveal the public’s fears about how the “Employee Free Choice Act” would hurt job growth.

If the Chamber really wanted to stir up some press on their reinvigorated anti-worker campaign, perhaps they should have picked a less-obviously right wing polling company to make their intentions appear less transparent. Although the sources of every dime of the $144.5K the Chamber spent last year on lobbying may be completely anonymous, the Republican client list of the Chamber’s partisan bent polling company

Voter/Consumer Research is not. Consider their list of clients:

Political – National Bush Cheney 2004 and Bush Cheney 200 || President George W. Bush || Republican National Committee (RNC) || National Republican Senatorial Committee || National Republican Congressional Committee || Mitt Romney for President

Political – States?Governor Don Carcieri || Governor Charlie Crist || Senator Mitch McConnell || Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison || Senator John Cornyn || Senator Richard Shelby || Congressman Mike Castle || Congressman Brett Guthrie

Corporations/Associations Wal-Mart || RJ Reynolds || Credit Union National Association || PhRMA || The Business Roundtable

Chamber Poll Neglects Truth, Sticks to Anti-Worker Rhetoric

It’s telling that the Chamber’s new poll also neglects to mention one of the most important aspects of labor reform: adding strict penalties for companies that break the law and intimidate or fire workers who want to form a union.

In the last 20 years, employer opposition to unionization has increased dramatically. Employers threaten to close plants and factories in 57 percent of union organizing drives and threaten to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent–while ultimately firing pro-union workers 34 percent of the time. Those are not good odds.

The authors of the poll say if employers and workers can’t reach an contract agreement in a reasonable amount of time, government bureaucrats will swoop in to mandate a binding agreement. This simply isn’t accurate. In arbitration, either side can bring in an independent, trained arbitrator to settle the dispute who both sides agree on. The bottom line is that arbitration encourages compromise, and no one has anything to fear from a process that is fair, neutral and promotes compromise instead of confrontation.

When confronted with legislation to improve American workers’ lives, the Chamber of Commerce invariably threatens economic ruin and rampant government control. This time, their fear hyperbole takes the form of this “Card Check Compromise” poll, which was writtenby and for people who want to keep the power to deny workers the choice of a union. The Chamber says their poll found little enthusiasm for various “compromise” proposals floated by labor supporters–but the only thing the Chamber is compromising away is workers’ interests, on behalf of the corporate special interests that pay them.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on February 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.: Let’s Protect Worker’s Rights

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. will always be revered as one of the greatest civil rights leaders in America and the world. Most people know King died in Memphis, but did you know that he died while fighting for the right of sanitation workers to organize unions and choose their own leaders?

King called unions “the best anti-poverty program available to poor people with jobs.” He worked with leaders of all the country’s major labor unions and supported union membership all his life.

At a press conference before his assassination in 1968, King said: “It isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. … What is the profit in being able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if one doesn’t earn enough money to even buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

On this MLK Holiday, pay tribute to Dr. King’s vision of economic justice by speaking out for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

EFCA will protect every worker’s right to form, join and assist labor unions – and bargain for a better wages, benefits and a better life. The legislation now has 225 co-sponsors but hasn’t moved in Congress because of the attention focused on health care reform. Still, now is the time to contact your members of Congress. Let them know that as soon as the health care reform legislation is passed, you expect them to turn their attention to the passage of EFCA.

Dr. King said “All labor has dignity.” Let’s restore dignity to workers by moving toward passage of the Employee Free Choice Act!

*For more on the Employee Free Choice Act visit the Workplace Fairness Employee Free Choice Act page.

About the Author: Linda Meric, a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy, is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose. Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

Shilling on the Corporate Dollar

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Image: Art LevineBusiness-sponsored ‘scholars’ deliver anti-union talking points.

Testifying before the Senate labor and health committee hearing in March, economist Anne Layne-Farrar of the corporate consulting firm LECG warned about the horrendous impact of the Employee Free Choice Act. Its potential to increase union membership from between five and 10 percent, she said, “would result in an increase in the unemployment of around one and a half to three percentage points. These are sizable effects for the U.S. economy.” Earnest and well-prepared, Layne-Farrar cited her study that concluded that 600,000 jobs would be lost in the first year after the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) became law. Fox “Fair and Balanced” News, naturally, in its TV report neglected to mention that her “research” was funded by the corporate-friendly, anti-union “Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs.”

Since the report’s publication in March, this statistic has circulated through the media, showing up on MSNBC, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal and, in spades, Fox News. EFCA has been Swift-Boated for purportedly taking away the secret ballot from workers. But union supporters say it will level the playing field, offering workers the choice of whether to form a union either through an election or “card check”­—the majority sign-up of authorization cards. Plus it toughens penalties and mandates arbitration after 120 days if employers refuse to negotiate in good faith.

Yet business interests have used Layne-Farrar’s study and that of prolific legal scholar Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago to tell a different story. Ads citing the “600,000” statistic appeared on Politico and other political insider publications aimed at buttressing anti-union lobbying that targets moderate senators such as Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, who subsequently backed away from the EFCA legislation.

Epstein, by some measures the third-most cited law professor in the country, has issued two major reports and five op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and other publications denouncing EFCA as a job-killing, unconstitutional “regime.” His wide-ranging attack on the pro-union bill for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution was paid for by the same Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs that subsidized Layne-Farrar’s work. In the past Epstein, an extreme libertarian, has attacked minimum wage and unemployment benefits, denouncing such New Deal legislation as unconstitutional “takings” that violate the Fifth Amendment. That is no surprise. Epstein has argued that, historically, sweatshop conditions can only be ameliorated by market forces, not by laws or unions. He told In These Times: “The level of wages will be determined by the intersection of supply and demand…the escape from that system is not driven by unions, which cannot increase productivity.”

Epstein’s past work is even a bit too radical for his business backers. He told In These Times that he is “unrepentant” about his earlier writings, but he concedes that his corporate-funded sponsors have asked him to omit some of those previous arguments when attacking EFCA.

Counter-attack by progressives

Progressive bloggers, law professors and economists have launched counter-attacks, but these conservatives’ talking points, theories, and, most importantly, their data cannot be easily marginalized. In fact, they strengthen the hyperbolic rantings comparing the bill to the Gestapo or Islamic terrorism, claims that may seem laughable to progressives, but set the tenor for the debate in Washington. And Layne-Farrar’s and Epstein’s conclusions serve as the academic veneer for the PR blitz that has tried to demonize the Employee Free Choice Act.

Despite the wide dissemination of Layne-Farrar’s report, critics like Chris Kromm of the Institute of Southern Living have found distortions and shoddy analysis in her work. Of the 10 Canadian provinces she studied, Kromm discovered that only three actually had significant changes in card check rules. And he found that the report itself acknowledged there wasn’t enough data to draw conclusions about the impact of card check. It further admitted that the provincial card check data they did collect was too “weak” for economic analysis. Kromm also wondered, “If unions really were the cause of unemployment, why has Canadian unemployment risen in recent years…even as union membership has declined?”

But Layne-Farrar massages the data using a complex “regression analysis” to connect the dots between card check, higher unionization rates and more unemployment, putting the loss at between 600,000 and 2.6 million new American jobs in the first year.

“That’s bullshit,” says Canadian labor economist Charlotte Yates, now the Dean of Social Sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “I don’t know of any credible economists who say [now] there is a direct correlation between unionization and the rise in unemployment.”

Even so, Layne-Farrar invokes her use of “regression analysis” as a sort of holy totem to ward off criticism of her work from other economists who cite what she says are “simplistic correlations.” These include studies showing that countries such as England, Denmark and Norway have higher unionization and lower unemployment rates than the United States. She says, “This is empirical analysis, not an opinion piece, with results based on publicly available data and using well-accepted econometric tools. You can’t rig these.”

John DiNardo, a labor economist at the University of Michigan and author of the textbook Econometrics retorts, “Just because she calls it ‘econometrics’ and ‘regression analysis’ doesn’t mean that it makes any sense.” While some earlier research had found a link between unionization and unemployment, more rigorous, recent research in Europe and the United States has found no connection between unionization and unemployment. In fact, Layne-Farrar’s study concocts a negative jobs impact from unionization that is 200 to 300 percent higher than even the most critical anti-union research.

Behind the statistical wizardry

Here’s where it helps to look behind the curtain of her statistical wizardry designed to dazzle common folk and legislators alike with econometrics. Her regression analysis supposedly aims to tease out the factors driving unemployment increases. But, DiNardo says, if unemployment shoots up and the unionized percentage of the workforce goes up, that could just as well be caused by more non-union workers getting laid off—while union members still keep their jobs. Hence, the percentage of unionized workers increases.

How do you get around this thorny problem if you want to blame unions for unemployment? Layne-Farrar purportedly “corrected” for the hopeless muddle of such simultaneous factors by, in part, merely measuring the unionization rates a year earlier than the unemployment rates. Presto! Unionization causes massive unemployment, she concludes. “She has very poor research design,” says DiNardo. “She doesn’t have anything resembling a natural experiment.” And he says that his review of the economic impact in America of unionization shows the “the casual effect of union recognition is zero.”

But for Epstein, the virtually unanimous opposition of business groups to the pro-labor legislation is proof positive that it will be “a job-killer of the worst sort.” In his report for the Hoover Institution, he paints an Edenic portrait of a non-unionized labor market, and laments the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 that legalized unions. “If the National Labor Relations Act offends every principle of the voluntary exchange of private property, this new bill is much worse,” he says. “I’ve never seen a statute so draconian.”

Epstein is the labor market equivalent of Candide’s Dr. Pangloss: If employers could just be left alone, all things work for the best in this best of all possible worlds. If there were no minimum wages laws, for instance, Epstein told me, “Wages would go up because productivity gains would offset any short-term losses [to workers].”

Such anti-union assertions don’t take into account the real world of employment—and the justifiable fear of being fired. Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, asks, “What bubble does he live in?” Even the Bush labor board found that nearly 30,000 workers are illegally fired or discriminated against each year because of union activity. And these researchers don’t really consider the widespread estimated $19 billion in wage theft.

While Epstein’s more radical views are left off the table, his intellectual firepower adds to the impact of his arguments against EFCA. Both Epstein and Layne-Farrar see an idealized world waiting to be born where unions don’t exist, and where workers and businesses thrive without them.

The question remains, will Washington politicians still listen to business interests that use these researchers’ dubious claims to argue, as Epstein does: “Unions are a bad deal for most workers.”

About the Author: Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications. He wrote the October 2007 In These Times cover story, “Unionbusting Confidential.” Levine is also the co-host of the “D’Antoni and Levine” show on BlogTalk Radio, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST.

This article originally appeared in In These Times on May 31, 2009.

Specter In Pittsburgh: Punishment and Reward at AFL-CIO Convention

Friday, September 18th, 2009

“More than ever before, we need to be a labor movement that stands by our friends, punishes its enemies, and criticizes those who, well, can’t seem to decide which side they’re on.” –Rich Trumka, in the Washington Post Sept. 7, 2009

PITTSBURGH – When the history of the bi-partisan undermining of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is written, Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter will be assigned a pivotal role.

Back on March 24, when he was still in the GOP, Specter announced that he was no longer going to be the much-prized 60th vote for “cloture” on EFCA. That’s the procedure Senate Democrats will have to employ sometime later this year to overcome a Republican filibuster, and make what retiring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was still predicting on Sunday would be “the greatest advances in labor law reform in 70 years.”

Senator Arlen Spector

In 2007, Specter supported bringing EFCA to the floor for a Senate vote, after it was passed overwhelmingly in the House. But according to the same Senator in March, “the problems of the recession” make this year “a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice.”

In organizing campaigns, where NLRB elections have been by-passed and “card check” used instead to demonstrate majority support for unionization, Spectre said “there has been “widespread intimidation” by “union officials” when the latter “visit workers’ homes with strong-arm tactics and refuse to leave until cards are signed.”

To deal with this alleged coercion, Specter recommended making it an unfair labor practice for any “union official” to visit “an employee at his/her home without prior consent for any purpose related to a representation campaign.”

While letting everyone know in March that he was no longer for cloture, Specter also positioned himself to play a key role brokering a compromise with colleagues like Tom Harkin and Chuck Schumer, who might “choose to move on and amend the NLRA” in ways more acceptable to Arlen.   

With a labor law reform record like this, Specter would seem to be just the kind of politician who needs a little labor “punishment” to send a message to the rest of his wavering breed — particularly since he now faces a Democratic primary challenge next year by a pro-EFCA congressman.

In several recent interviews, new AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka indicated that he favored holding politicians more accountable, “so they don’t listen to the moneyman and continue to erode away or negotiate away” key labor goals, a trend most evident lately in healthcare reform.

Nevertheless, here we are at the Pittsburgh Convention Center, on day three of the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial meeting, listening to that same Rich Trumka give a warm welcome to none other than Arlen Specter. From Trumka, we learn that his friend Arlen has been a rare “pro-labor Republican” for years.

From the wrinkled, frail-looking 79-year old Specter, we get a quick recitation of his past responsiveness to top union officials when job safety and health enforcement, or some other federal government function of benefit to workers, was under siege by the string of Republican presidents that he helped elect (two Bushes and a Reagan).

Today, the senator noted, he was working for a “robust public option in healthcare,” sanctions on imported Chinese tires, and emission standards that wouldn’t jeopardize jobs in coal mining, steel making, or other manufacturing.

On the matter of what he called “employees’ choice,” Specter reassured his audience that his latest position—spelled out in little detail—met the three standards set forth by Trumka, in a Sept. 5 New York Times article headlined “Union Head Would Back Bill Without Card Check.” (That was a reference to Sweeney’s own Labor Day weekend expression of willingness “to accept a fast election campaign instead of card check.” 

As described by Specter, Trunka’s three minimum requirements for “labor law reform” now include “prompt certification,” “tough penalties,” and “binding arbitration” of first contracts. According to Specter, a half dozen Senators, plus himself, Harkin, and Schumer, are working on a new version of EFCA that will “be totally satisfactory to labor.”

Specter both referenced —and was aided in his performance— by a local headline today announcing an impending Right-to-Work Committee “ad blitz” directed at him and the now abandoned “card check” method he criticized, much like the RTWC, back in March.  A full-page ad in yesterday’s Post-Gazette, run by the business-backed “Coalition for a Democratic Workplace,” still urged Specter to “oppose any versions of the job-killing” EFCA that would “shift power from workers to union bosses” or give “government-appointed bureaucrats more control in setting wages.”

These costly exertions by the anti-EFCA lobby reflect quite a different stance than elements of corporate America have taken vis-à-vis health care. In that ongoing “reform process,” labor defenders and facilitators of compromise (like SEIU leader Dennis Rivera) can at least point, as President Obama does, to what they consider to be positive movement on the part of some management players. When the subject is labor law reform —either as originally conceived or sans card check— the labor concessions made so far, brokered by the likes of Specter, have yet to be matched by anyone speaking for the employer side.

In the meantime, President Obama, who also addressed the convention today, is flying off to Philadelphia with his arm around Specter. They’ll be there together tonight at a big Specter re-election fundraiser, where Obama will be offering the same kind of reward for Specter’s party-switch that the AFL-CIO is prepared to give as well, in the hopes of getting EFCA-Lite in return.

About the Author: Steve Early is author of Embedded With Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home, is a labor journalist and lawyer who has written for numerous publications. He was a Boston-based international representative or organizer for the Communications Workers of America for 27 years, and is a member of the editorial advisory committees of three independent labor publications: Labor Notes, New Labor Forum and Working USA.

This article was originally published in Working In These Times on September 15, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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As Obama Speech Fires Up Base, Insurance CEOs Emerge As New ‘Villains’

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

President Obama’s well-received health reform speech not only boosted public support for reform, but helped fire up much of the progressive base—despite his failing to draw a firm line in the sand on the public option.  

Yet as Mike Lux, co-director and CEO of Progressive Strategies, pointed out Thursday on the Web radio show I co-host, “The D’Antoni and Levine Show,” Obama accomplished a key goal of inspiring progressives, including influential labor leaders, to push harder for reform—while starting to recapture the “narrative” about healthcare back from the right-wing.

Lux observed: “In order to get big pieces of legislation passed, you have to have people who are pumped, ready to go, fired up, willing to knock on doors. He was having trouble generating that. People were confused and down in the mouth. But the speech did what he needed to do and did it in a big way.

More sparks for a reform drive are expected to start this weekend, when the AFL-CIO begins its convention, and Obama appears before them next week, following up on his fiery Labor Day rally appearance and Wednesday’s congressional speech.

Before the president’s address to Congress, Lux added, “we never really had control of the narrative. Obama, for all his eloquence, had trouble laying out a story of what was wrong and why he wanted it changed. In order to tell a compelling story, you have to tell who the villains are, and he’s not very good at that. We never really had a story being told that people could latch on to, understand and get excited about.”

“We now have that,” Lux said on Thursday about the President’s messaging. “Last night, he went after insurance companies in a big way, and went after people lying about the plan, and called them out in a big way. And now have a narrative we can take to people.”

(Of course, long before the speech, many activists in the union movement have been working hard for healthcare reform — an issue that’s now become a legislative priority ahead of the Employee Free Choice Act — but the speech can reignite their fervor while broadening the range of people involved in grass-roots activism.)

Meanwhile, insurance industry executives continue to play their part as villains: a new report by the California Nurses Association shows that up to 40 percent of claims are denied in California insurance companies, making those profit-driven bureaucrats part of the real “death panels.” On Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! show this week, she highlighted the nursing association report and featured an interview with a mother, Hilda Sarkisyan, whose daughter died after she was initially denied a liver transplant by CIGNA, which has a 33-percent claim rejection rate so far this year. After a massive public campaign, the insurance company finally relented, but it was too late:

HILDA SARKISYAN: Well, we miss her. We don’t have our beautiful daughter with us anymore. And CIGNA is doing this every day, every day. And that’s why I’m out there to help other families to stop them. It’s not only CIGNA; it’s all the insurance industry, that they are placing profit before patient, and it’s not right…You know, they should not enforce the care of the people to their deep pockets. It’s all about their pocket, all about the CEO, how much he makes. I miss my daughter. I had a beautiful, perfect daughter. I don’t have her anymore. I don’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Hilda, describe what happened to your daughter.

HILDA SARKISYAN: Well, we had insurance. We were covered. We thought we had insurance. So it’s like having insurance and not having insurance is the same thing. People who have insurance and don’t have it, they get the same care. But having insurance and knowing that you do have it, and you are recommended to a certain hospital, because the insurance company only pays if you go to that hospital, you go to that hospital, which in our case was UCLA. We were transferred there. By the way, that’s our fourth hospital within, I would say, three years, because they were jumping us around. And finally, you go there. My son gave her the perfect bone marrow transplant, perfect match. And my daughter needed a liver transplant. And so many requests, so many requests, and they were—the doctors were denied. We were denied, until the California Nurses Association stepped in, helped us out.

We had to get out and go to their headquarters in Glendale, make a scene with our family, the Armenian Youth Federation, our church. Why do we have to do that? I’m a mother who should have been next to my daughter. Only if I knew she was going to die that same day, you think I would have that energy to go out there and do that? I could have been holding my daughter’s hand and praying with her. This is not right.

Fueled by such outrages, it’s welcome news for advocates of reform that labor leaders were, by and large, cheered by the president’s speech, which included his toughest attacks yet on insurers. The labor leaders’ enthusiasm can help rally the union movement’s ground troops to do even more work to promote the legislation. For instance, Gerald McEntee the president of a leading public employees union, the 1.6 million-member AFSCME, said:

With his speech to Congress last night, President Obama re-energized the forces for reform and has set a clear path for victory. We’re going to do our part and hold Congress accountable – the time has come for Congress to put people above profits and enact real health care reform. We’re also going to pull out all the stops to take on the insurance industry. The President’s right – ‘The time for games has passed – now is the season for action.’

President Obama made clear his support of a public option, which is just that – an option that will help improve quality, lower costs and keep the insurance companies in check.

With an estimated 150,000 workers attending events, Labor Day turnout for the AFL-CIO alone showed that unions are starting to push back hard against the right-wing Tea Baggers, whose bullying tactics dominated early August news coverage. These union members and allies are energized by a desire to fight for reform and battle the insurance industry. As the AFL-CIO Now blog reported:

Labor Day marches and rallies capped off more than a month of an incredible union member mobilization to move the health care reform debate beyond the screaming diatribes and disruptive tactics by opponents that marred the start of the congressional recess.

During the weekend, some 150,000 union members turned out for rallies, parades and picnics that not only celebrated the workers’ holiday, but showed broad support for comprehensive health care reform.

Those events followed the more than 400 August town hall meetings, health care forums and other events where more than 24,000 union members spoke up for health care and wrote letters, made phone calls and went door to door to educate their neighbors.

The President’s speech, Mike Lux said, can help boost such activism and add pressure to pass meaningful legislation. That’s in part because the speech added confidence to progressives and  Democrats in Congress who have been engulfed by what he calls the “culture of caution” and fear created by the onslaught of the right-wing noise machine. He said, “Momentum is really a key. Psychologically,  when people are confident and not on the defensive, they feel like something is going be done and they want to be part of it.” As a result, Lux declared,”People are willing more to deal [with shaping the legislation.]”          

And as the author of the important book, The Progressive Revolution, he pointed out how grassroots activism around the focused goal of medical care for seniors combined with the political head-knocking skills of LBJ to deliver Medicare.

The challenge is even tougher now to pass broader health reform than it was to win Medicare in 1965, but he’s hopeful that President Obama will show the toughness needed to get the job done—and that in turn will spur more reform in other key arenas.

Lux says, “If we can break through on healthcare and beat the insurance industries, it strengthens us against big banks and big energy companies.”

About the Author: Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly who has also written for The American Prospect, Alternet, In These Times, Salon, The New Republic, The Atlantic and numerous other publications. He’s written investigative articles on unionbusting and other corporate abuses, and recently completed Cornell University’s Strategic Corporate Research summer program. He blogs regularly for Huffington Post, and co-hosts a weekly Blog Talk Radio show, “The D’Antoni and Levine Show,” every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

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Happy ‘Enlightened’ Labor Day

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that workers in the United States apparently don’t want to join unions because of the “very enlightened management in this country now, treating employees better and employees have decided they don’t want to pay the dues.”

McConnell, R-Ky., husband of the most anti-union Labor Secretary in history, enlightened the rest of the country with his ridiculous reason claiming why no Republican will vote for the Employee Free Choice Act

To borrow from Rep. Barney Frank, McConnell must spend most of his time on a planet that’s much better than the planet the rest of us live on.

In truth, the Employee Free Choice Act is desperately needed on my planet, where 16 workers die on the job every day because managers ignore their health and safety. On my planet, field workers die of heat exhaustion. Laundry workers are killed by dangerous machinery. Exhausted airline pilots die in crashes.

Here’s something else very enlightened managers do on my planet: cheat poor workers of their wages. Last week, 68 percent of low-paid workers were victimized by wage violations, according to a new University of Chicago report. The typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339.

So-called enlightened Amerijet managers forced pilots and flight engineers to strike on Aug. 27. Fort Lauderdale-based Amerijet doesn’t put working toilets on its Boeing 727s, which fly from Florida to Venezuela and the Caribbean. Amerijet’s female pilots are forced to relieve themselves by squatting over bags. Male pilots urinate into bags hanging just outside the cockpit doors. There are no sanitary facilities in which to wash.

Amerijet managers are so enlightened they think it’s a good policy to force exhausted, hungry, sick pilots to fly long hours. The company pays a small fortune to union-busting lawyers who have prevented Teamster pilots from negotiating a contract for 5-1/2 years. But Amerijet managers pay their co-pilots less than $35,000 a year.

Sen. McConnell might be surprised to learn of the outpouring of support for the Amerijet strikers from their dues-paying Teamster brothers and sisters in the airline and trucking industries. Teamster maintenance workers and cleaners at Miami International Airport are refusing to cross the picket lines. Amerijet’s picket line is being walked by unions at American, US Airways, Southwest, JetBlue, UPS, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association. Other South Florida unions, as well as organized labor in the Caribbean and South America, are supporting the strikers.

So-called enlightened managers make life difficult for school bus drivers, who have an important job that requires skill and hard work. This is how managers at one private school bus company treated its drivers before they became Teamsters: At several depots, the toilet paper was removed from the employees’ bathroom. Workers had to ask for it at the office. They would get four or five squares.

Along with shabby treatment, school bus drivers earn low pay and enjoy few benefits. The Teamsters are building a movement of school bus and transit workers to change that. Almost 30,000 school bus and transit workers became Teamsters in the last three years. They are now seeing real improvements in their jobs and in their lives.

We are organizing school bus workers at First Student, Bauman/Acme and Durham School Services. Next week, we plan to file petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize 3,500 school bus drivers, aides, attendants, monitors and mechanics at 30 yards across the country.

Studies show that millions more workers would belong to unions if they had the chance. We are working hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act over Sen. McConnell’s objections. Workers need the chance to decide for themselves – without being spied on, threatened, interrogated or fired by their employers – whether to join a union.

The Employee Free Choice Act would give them that chance.

Enjoy your well-deserved holiday, brought to you by America’s labor unions.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on September 4, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

 

Philip Dine - Taking Back Labor Day

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

When I hear questions about whether labor’s no longer relevant and has become a dinosaur, I have to chuckle – and then try to disabuse people or organizations of such a notion.

Why would it be the case that at the very time corporate influence is becoming more centralized, more powerful and more distant, that employees can suddenly cope with all their work-related issues as individuals, with no need for representation or collective efforts? On the face of it, that makes no sense.

That’s the philosophical response. In practical terms, we now have the biggest gap between rich and poor, and the largest share of the Gross Domestic Product going to corporate profits and the smallest going to wages/ salaries that we’ve had in some 80 years. And we find the middle class under assault at the very time labor’s been in decline, just as the middle class has expanded during the periods of labor’s greatest strength. This is, of course, no coincidence.

So the question is not really whether labor’s relevant or important, but what it can do to strengthen itself so it can meet those challenges. That’s such a large issue it could be the topic of a book (come to think of it, it is) but here are a couple of thoughts.

Labor needs to improve its political strategy. Spending all its time, energy and resources providing logistical assistance to endorsed candidates allows it only to have access to friendly politicians so it can remind them to live up to their promises. Barack Obama is a terrific public leader, but he’s found enough other priorities – economic stimulus, auto bailout and healthcare reform – to have the Employee Free Choice Act land on the backburner. The labor movement needs to complement its campaign work with a strong effort to make its own issues and values part of the political discussion, something that voters hear and think about as they decide how to vote, so that labor’s agenda gets a post-election mandate of its own.
 
Related to that, labor needs to effectively communicate its message well beyond elections, and explain to people why it matters to their lives. That’s not a hard case to make (see the above about wages, middle class, and so on). People need to know that it’s harder to form a union in this country than in virtually any industrialized democracy in the world, why that’s so – and why it matters. Tell them that 16 workers are killed daily on the job every day, and that union workplaces are safer. Let them know that the deindustrialization of America is damaging to our economic and national security – and that it flows in part from the way trade agreements are written and enforced, or not enforced.
 
A big part of the reason EFCA is languishing is that labor has not done enough in this political or communications sense. As a result, labor’s left waiting for the Democrats in Washington to decide to push the legislation. Meanwhile, there’s no pressure from constituents, because the public has no idea why something called the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary. Because the broader context mentioned above has not been presented, most people are simply presented with dueling ads, pro-EFCA and anti-EFCA, that they’re expected to make sense of. That’s quite a task, and many simply decide that this is a case of labor seeking a quid pro quo for its campaign work.
 
If labor is to take advantage of the current political and economic opportunities, it needs to sharpen its strategies. If it does, not only will Labor Days in the future feature a reinvigorated labor movement, working and middle-class people in this country will benefit – and so will the economy as a whole.

About the Author: Philip Dine, a Washington-based journalist, is one of the few remaining labor reporters and his labor coverage has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His book,”State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence” (2008, foreword by Richard Gephardt) has been called “one of the best books in years on the labor movement” (AFL-CIO); “inspiring” (Sen. Edward Kennedy); “a great book” (Bill Clinton); and “a playbook for a comeback for organized labor” (Boston Globe).The book outlines why labor is as relevant as ever, and looks at how labor can revitalize itself so it can meet the daily challenges faced by working and middle-class Americans. Dine is an adjunct professor of labor relations at George Washington University, a periodic labor columnist for The Washington Times, and a frequent speaker on labor issues. He has appeared over the past year on CNN, Fox, CNBC, MSNBC, C-Span, XM Satellite Radio and National Public Radio, and has spoken at various union conferences, Harvard Business School, the AFL-CIO, National Labor Relations Board, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Labor College. Dine did graduate studies in industrial relations at MIT and spent two years researching labor unions and immigrant workers in France and Germany. His op-ed pieces have been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Providence Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Newsday. For a decade he wrote the only weekly labor column at a metro newspaper (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). More information is available at http://www.philipdine.com and Dine can be reached at philipmdine@aol.com.

 

2009 Labor Day

Monday, September 7th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

When I was growing up Labor Day was the most, maybe the only, sacred holiday of the year. My parents were both ardent labor union activists. My mom was a member of Local 1199 in NY – the health care workers union. She worked in a pharmacy and that was the union for workers there. My dad was a member of District 65 which was then part of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union – he was a camera salesman. They both served as shop stewards during my childhood and I think before I was born they both held other positions in their unions with more responsibilities.

My parents met at an event my mother’s union was holding. They were showing a film and my father was hired as the projectionist, in the days before you could just slip a DVD into a computer to watch a film. I don’t know too much about their courtship, but their union came about because of union activities. I’m pretty sure that is not a unique situation.

I grew up going to Labor Day parades in NY – my stroller covered with streamers. I was so pleased when I got to be in a parade as a union member myself. It was 198? , the year that Reagan went all out to destroy PATCO. I belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3; I worked for a cable television company.

For this Labor Day, I’ll be going to a rally in Boston Common which will both celebrate labor, and the need of all people to have good health care.

The issues that arise on Labor Day are so closely related to an Ethical Culture view of the world. In Ethical Culture we follow the Kantian notion that all people are ends in and of themselves. We attribute worth and treat them with dignity and respect just because we are people. And here’s the part that’s most related to labor issues – we do not use people as means to reach our own ends. Seems to me that point has been missed by lots of people in the corporate and business world. I’m glad to say that there are also many who bring a very ethical and caring approach to their endeavors, there are those who form cooperatives, there are those who consider others and the natural world around them as they conduct their business.

But there are also many who see a business primarily as an opportunity to use the labor of others to make a lot of money for themselves. When workers join together in unions they have a chance to have greater influence on their working conditions, on how much they are paid for their work and what benefits they receive. The share holders of a corporation are very much like a “union” of business owners, looking out for what is best for them.

Corporations do not have to jump through hoops to organize the people with an interest in the profits of the corporation. Yet, others, workers, often do need to jump through hoops, or around other obstacles to be able to organize in labor unions. Even though workers, employees of a corporation also have an interest in the success of a business, they are not usually allowed to have input into the decision making which affects the business, and certainly not into the decision making which affects them directly.

Labor unions have been successful in providing a strong voice for employees, both on an individual level and on issues of local and national importance. At a time when unemployment levels in this country are incredibly high, I seeit as especially important that workers can organize for good working conditions. While many might say this is a time when businesses can’t afford to accommodate unions, I see it as a time when even more attention needs to be paid to not taking advantage of people – workers- not using people as a means for creating profit for some, but not for the people doing the work. As I understand it, the Employee Free Choice Act is a bill which would create a fairer process for union organizing. You can find out more about it in the Ethical Action section of the newsletter.

What is your experience with labor unions? How do you see a connection between Ethical Culture and Labor Day or labor issues?

About the Author: Susan Rose is the leader of Ethical Society Without Walls.

This article originally appeared in Ethical Society Without Walls on September 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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