Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Employment wages’

Path to Power Is Clear in the Ocean State

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO has been busy in 2019, leading the fight on a number of important legislative initiatives. There are numerous union members who have been elected to the state legislature and that has provided an opportunity to pass legislation that will make a huge difference for our members and for working people across the Ocean State.

Earlier this month, the state legislature passed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo signed, a continuing-contract bill that would indefinitely lock in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The law now prevents cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay and making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.

The state federation also was involved in passing a bill that established fairness in the overtime laws to firefighters and relieves them of burdensome shift scheduling practices. A top priority for the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters/IAFF, the new law sets the overtime threshold at 42 hours per week, bringing firefighters’ overtime protections more in line with other industry workers.

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is also advocating for the passage of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour for care providers for developmentally disabled individuals in the state. The legislation has broad support in the legislature and will end the discriminatory minimum wage disparity for these essential care workers.

All of these advancements were made possible through an unrelenting advocacy effort that coordinated many union members elected to the Rhode Island state legislature, including state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (LIUNA). Ruggerio was instrumental in guiding these initiatives through a complicated political effort and ultimately passed the bills with overwhelming support.

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is proving that the path to power runs through the labor movement.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on May 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

We Must Create Good Jobs: Sherrod Brown Shows the Way Forward

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

February, the first full month of the Trump presidency, witnessed solid jobs growth of 235,000 with the headline unemployment rate little changed, at 4.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Services monthly report.

Trump has already tweeted to claim credit for the results, but neither his plan nor his administration were in place. In fact, the February figures, a record 77th straight month of jobs growth, result from the momentum of the Obama recovery, plus whatever benefit or harm came from Trump’s bombast.

The jobs growth will harden the Federal Reserve’s resolve to raise interest rates again when its Open Market Committee meets next week. The Fed is acting in anticipation of an expected rise in inflation, that is to date not much in evidence.

By raising rates, The Fed is choosing to put a drag on the economy, even though full recovery is a long way off. Nearly 15 million people are still in need of full-time work. The share of the population in the workforce – 60 percent – is still down from 2000. If our work rate were back to where it was, about 10 million more Americans would have jobs.

Over the course of the recovery, most of the jobs created are contingent – part-time, short-term, contract work – with few benefits and often low wages. Lawrence Katz and former Obama economic advisor Alan Kreuger found that a staggering 94 percent of new jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were “alternative work,” contract or short-term or contingent.

Trump’s trickle-down agenda – to cut taxes on rich and corporations so they will create jobs – doesn’t address this reality. In fact, corporations are swimming in money, and using it increasingly to buy back shares or for mergers that do little to create jobs. Companies, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, don’t lack capital or access to it, they lack demand for their products.

Democrats are sensibly critical of the Trump agenda, but too many fall back to a defense of Obama’s policies as the alternative. Obama helped save the economy that was in free fall when he took office, and presided over record months of jobs growth, but his policies, frustrated by Republican obstruction, did little to counter the stagnant wages, growing inequality and increasing insecurity of the modern economy.

The challenge is not simply to expose Trump’s bait and switch on the working people who voted for him, but to lay out elements of a bold alternative agenda. Bernie Sanders modeled that effort in his surging primary challenge.

Now, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is up for re-election in 2018, has stepped  boldly into the breach. Brown has released a 77 page, meticulously documented report –Working Too Hard for Too Little – that delves into how policies and power have undermined workers, and offers the elements of an agenda to rebuild the middle class.

Brown’s central insight is a direct counter to Trump’s recycled voodoo. Trump believes that cajoling and bribing companies is the way to generate good jobs. Brown argues “It’s not businesses who drive the economy – it is workers.”   Workers with decent wages and secure jobs generate the demand that allow companies to grow and the economy to thrive. As it is, “Between 2000 and 2013, the middle class shrank in all 50 states. And that’s hurting our country. When hard work doesn’t pay off – when workers have no economic security and their paychecks don’t reflect the work they do – our economy cannot grow.”

The unemployment rate, Brown argues, isn’t the measure of a good economy. “The unemployment rate is one thing, but whether workers have jobs that pay a decent wage and provide security is another. And the unemployment rate certainly doesn’t reflect the frustration, the worry, the anger, the pain that workers feel.”

Senator Brown details how the policies that have structured globalization, technology, corporate management have undermined workers, savaged unions, and pushed companies to offshore, contract out, and cut back on jobs, wages and benefits.  He then offers a worker based alternative agenda, some old and some new.

He’d act directly to lift the floor under workers – requiring a $15.00 minimum wage, setting up a national fund to finance 12 weeks family and medical leave, mandating minimum paid vacation days and enforcing overtime pay.

He calls for empowering workers at the workplace– cracking down on labor violations, curbing wage theft, policing misuse of contract labor, and reviving the right to organize and bargain collectively. While Republicans are intent on destroying unions, Brown argues that clearly we all have a large stake in challenging the current imbalance of power in the workplace.

He details measures to help workers save for retirement – including matching grants and expansion of opportunities for part-time and short-term workers.

Then Brown offers a far more coherent plan than Trump to change corporate incentives. He’d create a “Corporate Freeloader Fee,” levied against all corporations “whose pay is so low that taxpayers are forced to subsidize their workers.” The fee would force companies to reimburse American taxpayers for the insult. He’d accompany this with offering companies that do right by the workers a tax break – if they “commit to staying in the US, to hiring in the US and to providing good wages and fair benefits for workers.”

The academic rigor – complete with footnotes – of Brown’s report is a rarity among politicians. It exposes House Speaker Paul Ryan’s much celebrated power points for the thin gruel that they are. Brown doesn’t see creating jobs as a standalone – affordable health care, better schools, access to colleges and good training, aggressive anti-trust and more are also vital.

Work unites all of us, Brown writes, citing Pope Francis: “We don’t get dignity from power nor money or culture. We get dignity from work.” With Working too Hard for Too Little, Brown has shown Americans that there is an alternative. The choice is not between Trump’s antics and more of the same. Good analysis leads to bold alternatives that offer a way out. His courage and his leadership should be applauded.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on March 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

This Labor Day, Thank Unions For Boosting Wages

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Bryce CovertLabor Day is now seen as the official end of summer and a day off (at least for those who actually get paid holiday leave) to grill or go to the beach one last time. But when it was originally conceived as a federal holiday, it was as a concession to the labor movement after bloody union unrest that left 30 striking workers dead. It was meant as a day to celebrate the efforts and sacrifices of unionized workers.

A shrinking share of Americans are union members today. But the benefits brought about by the union movement are still just as strong, particularly when it comes to workers’ pay.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith

Being in a union is particularly helpful for marginalized groups that tend to be paid less than white men. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that black union workers earn wages that are, on average, 16.4 percent higher than black workers who aren’t in a union. The same is true for women: a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women in a union earn 30.9 percent more than women who aren’t unionized.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

Unionization also yields salary benefits for white men, who get a 20.1 percent boost for being in a union. But the wage-boosting power of unions has been hampered as the share of workers who belong to one has declined. In 1983, the earliest year the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data for, 20.1 percent of the workforce belonged to a union. Today that share has been cut nearly in half, down to 11.1 percent.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

That’s hurt everyone’s wages, not just unionized workers. The wage-boosting power of unions usually spills out into other workplaces because they set standards that everyone ends up adopting. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute found that for men working in the private sector who aren’t in a union, their weekly wages would be about 5 percent higher if union membership had stayed at the same rate as it was in 1979. That would mean an extra $2,704 per year on average. Non-union women would also benefit, but the impact would be smaller- a 2 to 3 percent increase in wages- because women have historically been a much smaller share of union workers.1-7CCL6l2MCZiQP3S-rXrB4Q

The drop in union membership, and the subsequent erosion of the wage benefits for all workers, has played a role in widening wage inequality, holding down pay at the bottom of the scale but less so at the top. In fact, other researchers have found a strong correlation between the fall of union power and the rise of income inequality.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on September 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

 

 

Tyson Foods Fined $263,000 Over Unsafe Working Conditions In Poultry Plant

Friday, August 26th, 2016
Bryce Covert
The government just cracked down on the country’s largest meat and poultry processor for endangering its employees.
It all began with a report to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of a finger amputation at a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Texas. OSHA investigators determined the worker’s finger got stuck in an unguarded conveyer belt when he was trying to remove chicken parts that had gotten jammed in it.

But once inspectors got there, they realized the problems at the Tyson plant went far beyond one injured hand. They discovered more than a dozen serious violations, including failing to provide protective equipment, a lack of safety guards on moving machines that left employees exposed to a risk of amputation, letting carbon dioxide levels surpass the permissible limit, and no training for workers about the hazards of peracetic acid, a highly hazardous chemical that’s used as a disinfectant, which can cause burns and respiratory diseases. Workers are also at risk of slipping and falling due to a lack of adequate drainage and exposed to fire hazards from improperly stored compressed gas cylinders.

OSHA announced on Tuesday that it was fining the company $263,498 for two repeated and 15 serious violations, including improper drainage, holes in the floor left without guards, a lack of guards on dangerous machinery, obstructed fire exits, and storing chemicals in a hazardous manner.

CREDIT: Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

In response, Tyson said in a statement, “We never want to see anyone hurt on the job, which is why we’re committed to continual improvement in our workplace safety efforts. We fully cooperated with OSHA’s inspection of our Center plant and intend to meet with OSHA officials in an effort to resolve these claims.”

OSHA’s enforcement actions come as part of the agency’s recent focus on the poultry industry. And it also comes after a number of reports have exposed the gruesome conditions that workers must endure inside these plants.

In a report released in October, Oxfam America found that line processing speeds have increased drastically, with an official upper level of 140 birds per minute but with the possibility of going even higher if supervisors who run the lines decide to speed it up. Workers told Oxfam they process 35 to 45 birds per minute. Meanwhile, they must perform multiple motions on each bird, such as cutting, hacking, hanging, pulling, and twisting, repeatedly and forcefully 20,000 times a day.

The speed and repetitive motions combine to create a number of physical problems, such as pain in fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, and backs, as well as swelling, numbness, tingling, twitching, stiffness, and a loss of grip.

Workers also told Oxfam that they were frequently exposed to harsh chemicals, such as chlorine and ammonia, used to clean up the blood and other drippings from the birds.

The conditions lead to widespread injuries and illnesses. Poultry plant workers experience repetitive strain at 10 times the rate of the overall workforce, carpal tunnel at seven times the overall rate, and musculoskeletal disorders at five times the rate.

CREDIT: Oxfam America

“While the findings from this plant in Texas are disturbing, they’re not surprising,” said Oliver Gottfried, Oxfam’s senior campaign strategist, in a statement. “The repeated and serious violations exposed during this investigation corroborate conditions Oxfam has heard from workers at a half-dozen Tyson plants across the country.”

Oxfam’s findings were backed up in May, when the Government Accountability Office released its own report. It found that poultry and meat workers are at twice the risk of being injured on the job compared to other American workers, and they experience higher illness rates than other manufacturing employees. Many poultry workers report respiratory issues thanks to breathing in chlorine. There is also a high rate of deaths, with 151 poultry workers dying on the job between 2004 and 2013.

Workers must put up with other torturous conditions. A big problem is the lack of breaks to go to the bathroom and eat meals. Because they have to get a supervisor’s permission to leave the line and another employee to cover their spots, workers report often waiting an hour or more to get a break to relieve themselves. To cope, some say they have severely cut back on drinking liquids or even started wearing diapers.

For putting up with these hellish conditions, workers are rewarded very poorly. Average hourly pay is $11 an hour, which comes to between $20,000 and $25,000 a year, qualifying workers with children for food stamps and other government assistance programs. For every consumer dollar spent on a chicken product, a worker will see just two cents.

Tyson now has 15 days to either address the violations and pay the fines or contest them. But OSHA doesn’t have a great track record in getting the full amount it originally fines companies, as they are often able to contest and reduce them to sums that amount to a slap on the wrist. It’s rare to even get an OSHA inspection, as the agency is so under-budgeted and understaffed that a given workplace only sees a federal inspector once every 139 years.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 17, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

A String of Slaughterhouse Successes for UFCW

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

kari-lydersenWorkers at the Farmland Foods meatpacking plant in Carroll, Iowa, make a starting wage of $11 an hour. Workers at a similar plant owned by the same company 25 miles away in Denison, Iowa, make $14.60 an hour, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. That’s one of the reasons, according to UFCW spokesman Marc Goumbri, that in October a majority of the about 125 workers at the Carroll plant voted to join the UFCW Local 440.

Wage disparity with a nearby union plant was also a driving force behind another vote in a string of union election victories for the UFCW this fall. In an early November election, a majority (1292 to 824) of  around 2,500 workers at a National Beef slaughterhouse and packing plant in Dodge City, Kansas, decided to join the UFCW Local 2. The union has long represented workers at a Cargill plant nearby. Goumbri told In These Times:

When you have a union facility that’s not far away, what you see is workers know from the get-go what having a union can mean for them and their families and the community—the wages at the union plant are much higher.

Goumbri said the National Beef election along with an October election at a JBS beef slaughterhouse in Plainwell, Mich., helped the union significantly bolster its “density” in the beef industry. The Michigan workers brought the UFCW’s total membership at JBS plants to about 28,000. Additionally, in September, about 300 workers at a Nebraska Prime kosher beef plant in Hastings, Neb., voted to join the union’s Local 293.

Now, Goumbri said, the UFCW represents about 60 percent of beef and about 72 percent of pork slaughterhouse and packing house workers nationwide. He told In These Times:

When a lot of workers are represented by a union in a particular industry, they use the strength they have in numbers to raise the floor for everyone… These are well-paying union jobs that come with wages and benefits – in the current economic state our communities are in desperate need of such jobs.

A 2008 article by Cornell University professor Richard Hurd about UFCW retail food (grocery) organizing notes that even when the union has a high concentration in a given sector, it needs a unified national bargaining strategy in order to effectively advocate for its members in changing, consolidated industries.

In the above four campaigns, the union said the employers agreed to remain neutral and allow a fair vote free of intimidation or other interference. Goumbri said this is not the norm in the industry or in general, but that in these cases the employers understood there was widespread support for unionization and that the employees were determined.  He told In These Times:

Companies are still hell-bent on preventing workers from having a free and fair process. (Fair elections) come when companies see workers are really united and the workers just take a stand, and the company knows workers are determined to make that choice. These were workers who knew exactly what they wanted and knew what their rights were.

Slaughterhouses and packinghouses are significant targets for unionization, since the jobs are typically grueling and dangerous and often employ a high percentage of Latino immigrants and African refugees.

(Denison, site of the two Farmland Foods plants, made national news in 2002 when the skeletal remains of immigrants were found in a boxcar. Horrified and sympathetic residents noted the quickly growing Latino population drawn by the slaughterhouses, though it’s not clear the people in the boxcar were specifically bound for Denison.)

Goumbri said wages, benefits and conditions will all be the focus of contract negotiations at each workplace, with workers at the kosher slaughterhouse also prioritizing Sundays off (the plant is closed on Saturdays).

Goumbri said the National Beef unionizing campaign built momentum this year after workers attempted to organize last year in an effort that didn’t result in an election. The JBS election came after just several months of organizing, he said.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on December 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About this Author: Kari Lydersen is an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

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