Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

A Victory for Silica Dust Exposed Workers?

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Mike ElkToday, after a much-criticized delay on issuing a rule to limit workers’ exposure to cancer-causing silica dust, the Obama administration put forward a proposed rule for public consideration. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that once the rule is in effect, it could save 700 lives a year and prevent nearly 1,600 cases of silicosis annually.

In an OSHA press release, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, commented, “Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis—an incurable and progressive disease—as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal.”

Workplace safety advocates applauded the decision. In a press release issued by the non-profit National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, executive director Tom O’Conner noted that workers who are most exposed to silica tend to be those least able to advocate for themselves.

“Low-wage immigrant workers and temporary workers are disproportionally represented in the industries with silica exposure—and are the most vulnerable to retaliation should they report potential hazards, injuries or illnesses,” O’Conner said. “This new rule will help to pull them out of the shadows and make them safer at work. Everyone, regardless of immigration status, deserves a safe workplace.”

However, some in organized labor say the fight to enact the rule has just begun, as it will have to undergo a public comment period before it is issued. In his response to the news of the rule, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka cautioned:

But this rule is only a proposal–workers exposed to silica dust will only be protected when a final rule is issued.  Some industry groups are certain to attack the rule and try to stop it in its tracks. The AFL-CIO will do everything we can to see that does not happen. We urge the Obama administration to continue moving forward with the public rule-making process without delay. The final silica rule should be issued as fast as humanly possible, to protect the health and lives of American workers.

This article originally appeared in Working in These Times on August 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.  

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

At MLK March, Renewed Call For Obama Executive Order on Wages

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Bruce VailWASHINGTON, D.C.—On the eve of a march to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, labor and civil rights activists are calling on President Barack Obama to honor King with an executive order that would raise wages for as many as two million workers.

One of the most poignant calls came Wednesday from Alvin Turner, a veteran of the famous 1968 Memphis garbage workers strike. Recalling a recent face-to-face meeting with Obama, Turner said “he told me personally he was working hard for the little man. If he don’t sign, he’ll disappoint me badly.”

Turner and others are pressing for an executive order that would establish a “living wage” for workers whose employment is tied to federal government contracts, grants, loans, or property leases. Earlier this year, the labor-backed “Good Jobs Nation” campaign produced evidence that many fast food workers at government-owned buildings in Washington, D.C., are earning below poverty-level wages, and that the same problems extend to other workers whose jobs are tied to federal government action. A study earlier this year from the pro-labor group Demos estimated an executive order could raise the income of about two million low-wage workers nationwide.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are making the order a centerpiece of their pro-worker “Raise Up America” campaign launched in late June. The Change to Win federation—backed most notably by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Teamsters—is a partner in the Progressive Caucus campaign.

Such an order would not require a vote in Congress or any cooperation from the anti-labor Republicans, noted Mike Casca, a spokesperson for Ellison. The president has sole discretion on whether to issue such orders, and pressure is rising on Obama to do so from prgressive Democrats, labor unions, faith-based groups, and others, Casca said.

If Obama fails to sign the executive order, “the federal government is complicit in the perpetuation of poverty,” charged Bill Lucy, a retired executive of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, who joined Turner Wednesday for a public panel discussion of the issue. A similar executive order was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, he added, so “it’s not like it’s anything new.”

Radio talk-show host Joe Madison said marchers at the Aug. 24 events to honor the 50thanniversary of King’s speech will hear repeated calls from the speaking platform for an executive order. “We will do a disservice to those (original 1963) speakers—to Dr. King, to A. Philip Randolph—if we do not demand” presidential action on an executive order,” Madison said. Without a demand for action “it’s just a ceremony, and we don’t need any more ceremonies,” he said.

“King was at the intersection of the civil rights and labor movements,” commented Moshe Marvit, a lawyer, author and labor activists. King would have understood that “we need bold action from the president in the form of an executive order” to begin raising wages across broad sectors of the economy, Marvit said.

Change to Win spokesperson Paco Pabian told Working In These Times that there has been no unequivocal response from the White House yet on calls for the living wage executive order. There have been reports that Ellison asked Obama directly for such an order at a June 6 meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and that Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had made a similar request, he said. In both cases, lawmakers were told that the matter would be reviewed by White House staff and that a definitive answer would be forthcoming sometime soon, Fabian said.

The push for the executive order gained an important backer on August 12, Fabian noted, when the New York Times published an editorial endorsing the idea.

“Many laws and executive actions from the 1930s to the 1960s, require fair pay for employees of federal contractors. Buth over time, those protections have been eroded by special-interest exemptions, complex contracting processes and lax enforcement. A new executive order could ensure that the awarding of contracts based on the quality of jobs created, challenging the notion that best contract is the one with the lowest labor costs,” the New York Times editors wrote.

Full disclosure: AFSCME is a web sponsor of In These Times.

This article originally appeared on In These Times on August 24, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

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

Labor Secretary Solis Resigns

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

BREAKING-Labor-Secretary-Solis-Resigns_blogpostimageU.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis resigned today.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Solis “brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families.”

Under Secretary Solis, the Labor Department became a place of safety and support for workers. Secretary Solis’s Department of Labor talks tough and acts tough on enforcement, workplace safety, wage and hour violations and so many other vital services. Secretary Solis never lost sight of her own working-class roots, and she always put the values of working families at the center of everything she did. We hope that her successor will continue to be a powerful voice both within the Obama administration and across the country for all of America’s workers.

In a statement, Solis said:

This afternoon, I submitted my resignation to President Obama. Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader.

Because President Obama took very bold action, millions of Americans are back to work.  There is still much to do, but we are well on the road to recovery, and middle class Americans know the president is on their side.

Together we have achieved extraordinary things and I am so proud of our work on behalf of the nation’s working families.

This post was originally posted by AFL-CIO NOW on January 9, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Donna Jablonski is the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, she served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. She began my career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, she received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College.

President Of Florida-Based Company Threatens To Fire Employees If Romney Loses

Monday, November 5th, 2012

 With fewer than 72 hours before polls begin to close, another report has emerged of a company owner strongly urging his employees to vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, claiming that their jobs are potentially on the line if Obama wins re-election.

Cliff Otto, president of the Florida-based Saddle Creek Corporation, circulated an email to staff this week explaining that, while “we do not support candidates based on their political affiliation,” Romney’s positions are in “the best interest of our company, and therefore our jobs and our future”:

In the past, Saddle Creek has not felt it imperative that we communicate with our associates regarding the political issues that affect our business. This year the positions taken by the two presidential candidates with regard to these issues are starkly different. As such [we] feel it would be wrong for us not to share with you the company’s position on just a few of the critical issues and, at the same time, how each of the two candidates compare to our position. … We do not support candidates based on their political affiliation. We do support candidates that share our positions with regard to the key issues facing our company and our country. Thank you for considering what Saddle Creek believes is in the best interest of our company, and therefore our jobs and our future.

An accompanying flyer, obtained by MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes, highlights by position — not candidate — which would be more beneficial for Otto’s employees’ jobs:

Otto is not alone in his effort to sway his employees’ votes by insinuating that they might lose their jobs should Obama win. Similar tactics have been used by other CEOs across the country who warn of “consequences” should Romney lose on November 6th. One CEO likened the threats to telling employees to “Eat your spinach.”

Indeed, it may be a concerted intimidation effort by right-leaning CEOs that is orchestrated from the top. Just a month ago, leaked audio captured Romney urging conservative business owners to tell their employees who to vote for.

This article was originally posted on November 4, 2012 at Think Progress

About the Author: Annie-Rose Strasser is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.

AFL-CIO Head Trumka: Romney 'sure doesn't know anything about coal mining'

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The United Mine Workers of America is sitting out this presidential race as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama battle over parts of coal country. But former UMWA president and current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke to the press Monday not just as an advocate for all workers but from the perspective of a third-generation coal miner.

While Romney has centered his coal country campaign on inaccurate claims that overregulation by the Obama administration has weakened the coal industry (Romney’s beloved free market is the real culprit), Trumka pointed to how workplace safety is enforced in this dangerous industry:

[President Obama] has appointed people who are enforcing safety laws, these are the real regulations coal operators don’t want enforced….MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration] is enforcing the laws and now coal operators are not able to get away with violations like they did before, especially high violators.

Among the regulations and oversight that Romney would weaken or abolish are those that save miners’ lives. So it’s important that Romney’s “Obama’s war on coal” rhetoric not be allowed to cloud the picture, obscuring that coal’s recent struggles aren’t due to regulation, and that when he talks about regulations, he’s talking about people’s lives. Beyond that, Trumka drove home the distance between the coal miners Romney pretends to care about and Romney’s own life:

Mitt Romney says coal country is his country. Well, he’s wrong—it’s ours….Mitt Romney doesn’t know about getting his hands dirty, and he sure doesn’t know anything about coal mining.

This article was originally published by The Daily Kos on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006, and a Daily Kos Labor editor since 2011.

Is the Federal Pay Freeze Obama’s PATCO?

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Mike ElkFor unionists, pay freeze reminiscent of Reagan’s attack on federal workers

The Obama Administration, looking to bolster its deficit-cutting credentials and show its desire to take on what some label a “special interest”—organized labor—yesterday announced a two-year freeze on the wages of all federal workers. Tim Fernholz of The American Prospect points out that the pay freeze will reduce the deficit by .1% over the next ten years. Obama’s pay freeze also reinforces the notion that public employees earn exuberant salaries despite a Bureau of Labor Statistic report showing that civil servants earn 24% less than their counterparts in the private sector.

“This proposal to freeze federal pay is a superficial, panicked reaction to the deficit commission report,” stated AFGE National President John Gage, a union that represents over 600,000 federal government employees. “This pay freeze amounts to nothing more than political public relations. This is no time for scapegoating. The American people didn’t vote to stick it to a VA nursing assistant making $28,000 a year or a border patrol agent earning $34,000 per year.”

AFGE for Obama? The union is not so enthusiastic after The White House froze the wages of federal employees on Monday.   (Photo courtesy of the AFL-CIO)

AFGE for Obama? The union is not so enthusiastic after The White House froze the wages of federal employees on Monday. (Photo courtesy of the AFL-CIO)

Attacking “greedy federal workers” allows Obama to claim he is taking on special interests when he is completely unwilling to take on the rich over the Employee Free Choice Act or the Bush tax cuts. But, as recent polling analysis released by the Center for American Progress indicates, labor is seen by many Americans as just another big institution too far removed from the public.

This pay freeze is in line with the president’s earlier attacks on teachers unions and lack of leadership on the EFCA. The important question we should ask is, will scoring cheap political points by scapegoating workers lead to unintended consequences that could impede economic recovery?

“Is this Obama’s PATCO?” says Campaign for America’s Future Co-Director Robert Borosage, referring to President Ronald Reagan’s mass-firing of Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization members in 1981. “Will employers across the country use his language and his message to inflict another round of pay cuts?” A cut in wages by corporations across the board could decrease demand swinging us even further into a depression.

Regardless of the economic impact of President Obama’s pay freeze, the political impact is clear. Republicans smell blood in the water and will attempt to push The White House to make even more attacks on workers and workers will continue to wonder who is on their side. Indeed, the vote of union members appears to be at turning point. For the first time in a generation, less than 50% of union members voted Democratic. Obama’s attacks on federal workers will push them even further in the arms of right-wing, corporate-funded, populist demagogues.

“There will be no rejoicing in the homes of workers tonight,” said UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “But the corporate CEO’s who frequently dine at the White House will enjoy this immensely as they realize what an opportunity this president has presented them.”

*This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on November 30, 2010.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.

Family Leave Politics Move Toward Workplace Fairness and LGBT Equality

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Michelle ChenWhen a child is sick, the last thing a parent should be worried about is her next paycheck. Yet that’s the perverse dilemma that besets millions of workers in an economy that’s radically out of sync with the rhythms of modern family life. Activists are working to ease the strain by making the option of paid time off not only more generous, but also more open to all types of families, whether they’ve got one mom or two dads.

This week, the Labor Department moved to make family and medical leave policy accessible to same-sex households, showing that time off for caregivers isn’t just a perk, but a civil rights issue in a labor force rife with discrimination.

In sharp contrast to European societies, millions of American workers are burdened by a lack of guaranteed paid leave time for sickness or family emergency. Meanwhile, even those limited, inflexible policies are especially punitive for same-sex couples, largely shutting them out of federal law. Same-sex partners are thus denied both full economic citizenship as well as the dignity of recognition of their loving relationships.

The Labor Department plans to clarify the rules of the Clinton-era Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows many employees (but not all) up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick child. Under the Labor Department’s revision, if Mary’s kid gets sick, her partner Jane could stay at home to take care of the child, even if Mary and Jane can’t officially get married.

According to the advocacy group Family Equality Council, most children of same-sex partners do not live in states that legally recognize their relationship to their parents, and in the states that do, parents are generally “unable to extend health benefits to their kids or to make medical decisions on their behalf in the event of an emergency.” An estimated two million children nationwide are in the care of LGBT families.

The new reading of the legislation would build on other baby steps for LGBT rights under the Obama administration, including plans to extend hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples, the incorporation of same-sex partners into the Violence Against Women Act, and perhaps a repeal of the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. All these measures inch toward equality in the absence of sweeping legislation, or a court ruling, that grants same-sex marriage rights.

But in their push for visibility in the workplace, same-sex partners also push the debate beyond marriage itself. A more inclusive definition of family dovetails with the gender justice struggle for the huge swath of the workforce that doesn’t want to choose between earning money and caring for family.

Rights advocates have long campaigned for local, state and federal paid leave programs. Sherry Leiwant of A Better Balance, which has supported paid leave initiatives in several states and cities, including New York and San Francisco, told In These Times that the group includes same-sex domestic partners in its campaigns:

It is very important to us that domestic partners be included in bills extending paid family leave benefits and paid sick days to workers…. Working with the National Partnership for Women and Families we have created model statutes for both paid family leave and paid sick time and they define family member to include domestic partners.

While the Obama administration’s FMLA clarification applies specifically to children, the model concept recognizes same-sex partners as caregivers and as adult family members entitled to care.

While the benefits of paid family and sick leave are clear, the widespread lack of it deepens the racial, gender and income stratification of the workforce. A study by the Center for American Progress and U.C. Hastings Center for WorkLife Law suggests that a culture of overwork and inequality corrodes social stability:

Discrimination against workers with family responsibilities, illegal throughout Europe,  is forbidden only indirectly here. Americans also lack paid sick days, limits on mandatory overtime, the right to request work-time flexibility without retaliation, and proportional wages for part-time work. All exist elsewhere in the developed world.

So it should come as no surprise that Americans report sharply higher levels of work-family conflict than do citizens of other industrialized countries.  Fully 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict. And yet our public policymakers in Congress continue to sit on their hands when it comes to enacting laws to help Americans reconcile their family responsibilities with those at work.

The Family Equality Council and other groups seek a two-pronged expansion of the FMLA through the Healthy Families Act. That bill, according to spokesperson Kevin Nix–

allows employees to take time off for “any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” The “affinity” language is responsive to all kinds of family and caretaking configurations, and for LGBT families specifically who live in states where they can’t marry and can’t adopt the child they are raising, it means they would still qualify to take time off to care for each other when they get sick.

So whether the family member is a partner of the same gender, a grandma, or an adopted son, the law would ideally embrace a progressive concept of emotional kinship. Whatever kind of relationships give meaning to a worker’s life, an equitable paid leave policy would ensure that in hard times, everyone has the right to be there for a loved one.

This article was originally published in Working In These Times.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Racewire.org. She can be reached at michellechen@inthesetimes.com

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog