Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Employee Free Choice Act’

Young Workers in Free Fall: 1/3 Under 35 Live with Parents

Thursday, October 7th, 2010
Image: Art LevineSo much for the economic independence that’s supposed to come with young adulthood.

But when unemployment among young men workers is the highest it’s been in 61 years, as noted by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, it’s little wonder that workers under 35 are facing so many economic obstacles.

On Tuesday, the AFL-CIO released the results of a disturbing new Peter Hart survey, “Young Workers: A Lost Decade” that found that about a third of workers under 35 live at home with their parents, and they’re far less likely to have health care or job security than they were ten years ago. Even then, in a 1999 survey, when they faced economic insecurity, they still had reasons to be hopeful.

Those days are long gone. A quarter of young workers say they don’t earn enough to even pay their monthly bills, a 14% rise from the last survey. As Richard Trumka, the presumptive incoming president of the AFL-CIO, said in a press conference today:

We’re calling the report “A Lost Decade” because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood – - put off having kids, put off education – and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.Thirty-five percent are significantly less likely to have health care than older workers, only 31 percent make enough money to pay their bills while putting anything aside in savings, and almost half are more worried than hopeful about their economic future.

That’s one reason that Trumka and other labor leaders announced this week a new outreach campaign to recruit young workers — and a stepped-up drive for the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform. They used Labor Day, with the  involvement of 100,000 union members in just the AFL-CIO alone in events and actions, as a launching pad to spur Congressional action.

As Trumka declared in a speech Monday at the Center for American Progress (via Working In These Times blog):

The challenge facing unions isn’t just to change the way labor laws work; it’s to change the way we work.It’s to reconfigure ourselves to respond to the needs of a new generation of working Americans….

Younger workers ought to have health care. They ought to have paid sick leave and paid vacations. They ought to have pensions. They ought to have union representation.

But when they look at unions too often what they see is a remnant of their parents’ economy — not a path to succeed on their own. This is the issue that will decide the future of the American labor movement.

We all hear a lot about unions coming back into the AFL-CIO — and that’s a personal priority of mine – but, ultimately, it won’t matter how many unions are in the AFL-CIO if we fail to capture the imagination of millennials.

Now, we ought to be clear: the problem isn’t that they have some deep-seated hatred of unions; they don’t….They think we do a lot of good things for our members; the problem is that they don’t think we have much to offer them.

The union movement hopes to change that perception by offering them the concrete gains unions can offer them in the workplace, and as In These Times’s David Moberg observes, they’re potentially open to progressive appeals:

They primarily blame Bush, Wall Street/banks, and corporate CEOs and see job loss, inadequate wages, and healthcare costs as working people’s biggest economic problems.They strongly prefer public investment to create jobs over reducing the deficit. And by a 50 to 23 percent margin, they think workers are better off with a union. They support Obama and identify with Democrats much more strongly than older workers.

But the future now looks particularly bleak, especially if the “jobless recovery” continues at its relatively slow pace, and the level playing field for union organizing remains blocked by opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act.

At the media conference on Tuesday, one 31-year-old worker, Nate Scherer, explained his all-too-common plight:

After getting married, my wife and I decided to move in with my parents to pay off our bills. We could afford to live on our own but we’d never be able to get out of debt. We have school loans to pay off, too. We’d like to have children, but we just can’t manage the expense of it right now…so we’re putting it off till we’re in a better place. My [work] position is on the edge, and I feel like if my company were to cut back, my position would be one of the first to go.

Nate at least has a job, but he represents an economic tsunami for young workers that offers a profound challenge to the country — and our economic future. As Bob Herbert, looking at both long-term joblessness and the problems facing young workers, summed up recently in his column“A Scary Reality”:

For those concerned with the economic viability of the American family going forward, the plight of young workers, especially young men, is particularly frightening. The percentage of young American men who are actually working is the lowest it has been in the 61 years of record-keeping, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.
Only 65 of every 100 men aged 20 through 24 years old were working on any given day in the first six months of this year. In the age group 25 through 34 years old, traditionally a prime age range for getting married and starting a family, just 81 of 100 men were employed.

For male teenagers, the numbers were disastrous: only 28 of every 100 males were employed in the 16- through 19-year-old age group…

This should be the biggest story in the United States. When joblessness reaches these kinds of extremes, it doesn’t just damage individual families; it corrodes entire communities, fosters a sense of hopelessness and leads to disorder.

The union movement’s leaders are hoping that by engaging young workers and increasing its power in more workplaces, they can start turning around this crisis and making up for “The Lost Decade.”

This article was originally published on Alternet.org.

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 can be reached at artlevine@inthesetimes.com.

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.

Social Forum Focuses on Workers’ Issues

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Image: James ParksWorkers’ issues were the focus of  five days of  marches, rallies and workshops at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, which ended over the weekend. Grassroots activists and progressives from across the country came together to build new alliances, create new strategies and put new energy into the movement to turn around the American economy.

Writing in Workday Minnesota, Howard Kling quotes a UAW leader who says the forum was an opportunity for labor to build relationships with other movements and encourage a “strong, fight-back attitude toward the intense corporate agenda that is blocking change on health care, labor rights, fair trade policies and a host of issues that we believe in.”

Throughout the forum, union members were hard at work making sure working peoples’ voices were heard. In a brainstorming session at the start of the forum, the hundreds of union members attending the five-day event listed the changes most needed to improve conditions for workers in the United States. The list included passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, a public blacklist of employers who mistreat workers, enforcement of existing labor laws, a federal jobs bill and the criminalizing of labor law violations.

On the first full day of the forum, newly elected UAW President Bob King joined Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams; Al Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 25; and Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 president, in leading a march and rally through the streets of Detroit. Chanting “Full and Fair Employment Now!” and “Money for Jobs, Not for Banks!” participants demanded Congress address the pressing jobs emergency.

One of the forum highlights was a joint meeting of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) to develop strategies to better protect the rights of some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

Domestic workers often are afraid to join unions for fear of losing their jobs. There is little job security and some have no employer-provided health care, and most toil in isolation, said Ai-Jen Poo, director of NDWA.

They are completely vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Some have good employers but some work in homes where they earn 50 cents an hour and work around the clock.

At the global and local levels, officials are beginning to recognize the need to protect domestic workers. Earlier this month, the New York State Senate passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, guaranteeing better working conditions for domestic workers. In California, a Bill of Rights resolution for domestic employees has been introduced in the state legislature.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) this month took a giant step forward in the fight to create workplace justice for the millions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers around the world. At its International Labor Conference the ILO began the process to establish a first-ever international standard (“convention”) to protect the rights of domestic workers.

Nadia Marin-Molina with the NDLON said the most common problem for day laborers is wage theft.

The employer will say, “We’ll pay you tomorrow,” and then the employer never  shows up. Sometimes we have to go to court to get their money.

NDLON and Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) are working to stop wage theft among mostly immigrant low-wage workers. The nation’s economy suffers when millions of workers are denied their just pay, IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo said in a workshop on faith and labor. It is also a moral issue, she added, since every major faith group has some variation of the commandment that “Thou shalt not steal.”

On June 25, faith activists at the forum led a protest against JPMorgan Chase & Co., calling on the Wall Street financial institution to declare a moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan and sever its ties with R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco giant refuses to meet with the Farm Labor Organization Committee (FLOC) to discuss the slave-labor working conditions of contract growers in North Carolina.

Throughout the week, workers and union staff took the lead in discussions on building communities by rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and on the fights for justice for domestic workers, Immokalee farm workers, immigrant workers and sweatshop workers. Activists talked about strategies for gaining full employment in a new economy, changing our trade policies and creating safe workplaces.

The forum followed the Great Labor Arts Exchange, which was held in Detroit, the first time in three decades that it was produced on the road.

This article was first published by AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris.

Why Taking on Blanche Lincoln Was the Right Call

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

photo_65399Challenges within the primaries allow us to define what it means to be a real Democrat—to insist that the party truly puts the interests of working people first.

That’s what makes elections like Tuesday’s run-off in Arkansas between Bill Halter and incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln, the victor, so important. Labor and progressive movements got together to target Lincoln because she had opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, helped to block a robust public option in health care reform, and refused to back one of President Obama’s key nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

Conventional wisdom within the Democratic Party states that we need strong majorities in order to pass better public policies in Washington, DC. But the logic of “more” doesn’t add up if those people we elect do not provide us with the votes we need. As long as our political strategies ask only that candidates have a “D” behind their names, we’ll never get the type of majorities that will take hard stands to confront the power of big business and create real reform.

Going back to the Carter years in the 1970s, we had large Democratic majorities in Congress, yet we saw labor law weakened and the right to collective bargaining eroded. Under Clinton, Democratic majorities gave us NAFTA and more unfair trade.

If we don’t want history to repeat itself with the current administration, we cannot get wrapped up in the temporary excitement of a given electoral campaign. We need to have the memory, foresight, and strategy to craft something different. That’s why we should hope that challenges within the primaries become more standard.

‘Different,’ not ‘more’

Doing politics differently means two things:

1) having a higher standard of accountability; and

2) judging our success in electoral contests based on a dual bottom line.

Accountability first means being clear about what our agenda is. Strong health care and labor law reforms are key structural changes needed in our economy if we are to rebuild the American middle class. We can’t forget these in the next Congress and simply move on to new matters. Rather than waiting for the White House to lead and hoping that candidates follow, we must lead by putting our priorities forward. We don’t need friends on issues that are foundational to working people, such as health care, living wages, and making collective bargaining the norm; we need champions.

There have been countless calls from labor and other progressive constituencies for accountability from politicians. Nobody disagrees that elected officials should be made to answer for their votes. But there is not much said about how to make this happen–about what the vehicle for ensuring accountability will be.

The answer is an organized base. None of the progressive lobbies in Washington, DC can hold any elected official accountable without strong, organized, permanent grassroots organization in the home states.

The dual bottom line

That gets to my second point about doing politics differently. When labor and progressive movements enter into any electoral contest, they should measure their success based on a dual bottom line: Did we get our candidate elected? And what did we leave behind in terms of lasting organization?

If we have to parachute people in to run a campaign, it’s a good sign that we need to invest more in building local talent and developing local capacity in the area. In A New New Deal David Reynolds and I profile case studies from around the country that show how regional activism will lead to building the type of progressive infrastructure we must have to hold politicians accountable: We need local organizations that have their own ability to run their own political campaigns. We need organizations that can form alliances across institutional boundaries, crafting coalitions between unions, community groups, and other progressive institutions. And we need organizations that can develop policy proposals and do top-flight research.

This type of organization is what will allow us to be part of a governing coalition. Accountability means that, in candidates’ eyes, our core constituencies are as just as essential to governing as they are to getting elected.

Labor and progressives have an urgent need to think long-term. Let’s not abandon our strategy just because we lost on the Halter drive. It will take several attempts before we will really start to send a message about what a new approach to politics means.

Come November, simply restoring or exceeding a 60-vote majority won’t solve the problems we face. Instead, we must go beyond “more” and start doing politics “different.”

About This Author: Amy B. Dean served as President of the South Bay AFL-CIO in Silicon Valley from 1992-2003 and chaired AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s committee on the future direction of labor strategy at the regional level. She is co-author, with David B. Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.

‘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.

Middle Class Task Force Addresses Child Care, College Costs, Retirement Security

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
The White House Task Force on the Middle Class today announced several initiatives it says will help middle-class families afford soaring child care costs, care for their aging relatives, cope with the challenge of saving for retirement and pay for their children’s college tuition.
President Obama says the measures will help “ease the burdens on middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and provide the help they need to get ahead.” The White House says Obama will discuss these and other vital middle-class issues, including job creation and health care in his State of the Union address Wednesday.
The Task Force chairman, Vice President Joe Biden, says the initiatives were developed after a series of meetings during the past year with working families around the country and at the White House.
Every day, middle-class families go to work and help make this country great.  For a year, our Task Force has been hearing that they are struggling with soaring costs and squeezed family budgets. These common sense initiatives will help these families cope with these challenges.
The initiatives include:
Nearly doubling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families making under $85,000 a year and a $1.6 billion increase in child care funding for families struggling to enter the middle class.
Limiting a student’s federal loan payments to 10 percent of his or her income above a basic living allowance.
Creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs, requiring all employers to give the option for employees to enroll in a direct-deposit IRA.
Expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and enacting new safeguards to protect retirement savings.
Expanding support for families balancing work with caring for elderly relatives.
Click here for a fact sheet with more detailed information on each initiative.
The Task Force has given working families and union leaders the opportunity to outline their concerns and offer recommendations on ways to make the economy work for working families.
United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard emphasized the need for creation of good green jobs. Members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 730 in St. Cloud. Minn., told Biden and the Task Force that the Employee Free Choice Act was vital to allow workers to bargain for jobs with good wages and benefits. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler urged the Task Force to make fixing manufacturing a priority in building a stronger economy.
Visit the White House Task Force on the Middle Class website here.

Image: Mike HallThe White House Task Force on the Middle Class today announced several initiatives it says will help middle-class families afford soaring child care costs, care for their aging relatives, cope with the challenge of saving for retirement and pay for their children’s college tuition.

President Obama says the measures will help “ease the burdens on middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and provide the help they need to get ahead.” The White House says Obama will discuss these and other vital middle-class issues, including job creation and health care in his State of the Union address Wednesday.

The Task Force chairman, Vice President Joe Biden, says the initiatives were developed after a series of meetings during the past year with working families around the country and at the White House.

Every day, middle-class families go to work and help make this country great.  For a year, our Task Force has been hearing that they are struggling with soaring costs and squeezed family budgets. These common sense initiatives will help these families cope with these challenges.

The initiatives include:

Nearly doubling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families making under $85,000 a year and a $1.6 billion increase in child care funding for families struggling to enter the middle class.

Limiting a student’s federal loan payments to 10 percent of his or her income above a basic living allowance.

Creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs, requiring all employers to give the option for employees to enroll in a direct-deposit IRA.

Expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and enacting new safeguards to protect retirement savings.

Expanding support for families balancing work with caring for elderly relatives.

Click here for a fact sheet with more detailed information on each initiative.

The Task Force has given working families and union leaders the opportunity to outline their concerns and offer recommendations on ways to make the economy work for working families.

United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard emphasized the need for creation of good green jobs. Members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 730 in St. Cloud. Minn., told Biden and the Task Force that the Employee Free Choice Act was vital to allow workers to bargain for jobs with good wages and benefits. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler urged the Task Force to make fixing manufacturing a priority in building a stronger economy.

Visit the White House Task Force on the Middle Class website here.

*This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on January 25, 2009. 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. 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.

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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