Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Richard Negri’

We Remember the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living!

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Image: Richard Negri

Workers around the world commemorate April 28th as a day of remembrance honoring those who’ve died or been seriously injured on the job. The date for Workers Memorial Day coincides with Congress passing the Occupational Safety and Health Act forty-one years ago. Though the Act remains a promise that every worker deserves the right to a safe job, we all know that we have a lot of work ahead us.

The SEIU Nurse Alliance has taken the lead in focusing on workplace violence prevention with the union, as there have been a number of our healthcare members who were killed or severely injured due to violence from patients.

Donna Gross, Cynthia Palomata, Elenita Congco, and Stephanie Moulton, all healthcare providers, were killed on the job in the last twelve months. Countless others have been physically assaulted or verbally abused and bullied at work.

Unsafe and harmful working conditions are obviously not limited to healthcare providers. The insidiousness of unsafe and violent conditions crosses over into every trade and every sector. Thus, “an injury to one is an injury to all!”

A recent study estimates that the loss of workers’ lives and livelihoods costs the U.S. economy at least $250 billion a year. But how do you put a price tag on a worker’s life, their arm, leg, finger? How do you put a price on coming home from work with an infectious disease you didn’t wake up with?

While the official statistics on workplace safety shows some improvement, one unjust death of one worker in any trade or sector is simply too much. In addition, we only know the “how” about unsafe workplace environments from what the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tells us. The problem there is that it is widely known that the BLS wildly underestimates the problem. In fact, the true toll of job injuries is known to be two to three times greater — about 8 million to 12 million job injuries and illnesses each year. That’s just too much.

How is it possible that the BLS reporting is so far off the mark? The BLS arrives at the specifics around workers’ injuries and deaths by way of logs OSHA receives from EMPLOYERS.

The reporting process is never accurate because so many workers, especially nurses, fail to file reports with their facilities. Many healthcare workers accept that injury and untimely death on the job comes with the territory — many healthcare providers would rather lift the weight of an American-made sedan each shift than file reports — or is that really the case?

It is a difficult question because our employers frequently persuade us to think that our injuries are not as bad as we think, or, in many cases, just not worth reporting. The culture of each facility may vary from house to house, but at the end of the day, if accurate reporting isn’t being done, accurate changes won’t come.

Still, there’s more we need to wrap our heads around. Some employers discourage reporting through the use of incentive programs, like Safety Bingo, that reward workers for not reporting injuries or threaten to fire workers for reporting injuries or illnesses. That’s not good. What do we do about that?

For one, we should make it our business to learn what our rights are in the workplace — which a great many of us already do. Second, we need to consider taking the time and effort to report injuries and illnesses whenever there is one. Let’s not forget that our employers are usually just fine handing in near-blank OSHA reports.

Can we pledge to do our best to eliminate all violence and other hazards on the job so that every SEIU member and all workers can go home safely to their families at the end of the day?

President Mary Kay Henry said it very succinctly, “The right to a safe, secure workplace should be as fundamental as the right to have a voice on the job. When nurses, home care workers, and other working people go to work every day, we should never have to worry about getting hurt or losing our lives. On this Workers Memorial Day, we honor all workers, including SEIU members, who were injured or killed while trying to support their families by simply doing their job. It is our duty to these workers and their families to fight to ensure that no one will have to endure that pain again.”

To ensure that our families will not have to endure the pain of losing us on the job, and to ensure that we continue to work safe and exercise our rights, we will need to remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.

About the author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Workplace Violence Is Not Part of the Job - A Nursing Phenomenon

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Image: Richard NegriDeborah Bonn, the director of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, recently sent an email to more than 500 SEIU nurses about the recent cluster of tragic events facing nurses around the country. These events put a spotlight on the extent of violence against nurses and other healthcare workers.

The problem is that even though these violent acts were widely reported, they have unfortunately since fallen off the radar.

In October 2010, there were two tragic news items originating in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • A psychiatric technician, Donna Gross, was killed on the job at Napa State Hospital. A mentally ill patient at the facility allegedly strangled her to death.
  • Two days after Ms. Gross was killed, Cynthia Palomata, a nurse at the Contra Costa County jail, was killed by a violent inmate who lost control and beat her with a lamp.

In Bonn’s letter to RNs, she wrote,

“Unfortunately, workplace violence won’t end by media attention alone…we should NOT BE OK with going to work knowing there’s a real possibility of getting hurt, traumatized or killed.”

Bonn says that nurses need to bring home the seriousness of workplace violence by telling their stories. As a nurse and union leader, she agreed to share her story with the public.

During my in-hospital nursing career, I was stabbed in the back with a fork by a patient, suffering from DT hallucination, who was hiding behind a door while doing hourly rounds on the night shift.

I’ve also been kneed in the chest by a belligerent patient – an incident which left me in severe pain. After a chest X-ray that was ordered by my private physician because the hospital doctor did not feel one was warranted, I learned my ribs were just bruised from the patient’s attack.

If this is not enough to convince you we need change, I can tell you about the time I was stabbed in the arm with a needle by an elderly demented patient, who grabbed the needle from me after I had given her insulin.

There was also the time I got kicked so hard by a patient that I was thrown against the wall and knocked unconscious to the floor – that was more than just a bad day on the job!

Is this what nursing has become? Was I supposed to just accept these acts of workplace violence as a ‘hazard of the job’ and expect nothing would change?

Believe me, I’ve endured many other attacks in my career besides the ones I describe here. In each case, the facility gave me the impression that this was just part of the job. The facility, in not so many words, told me that we are responsible for the patients and therefore, I was responsible for all these events!

How can we make this workplace violence stop?

For one, we need to keep it on our radar long after the traditional mainstream news drops the story.

Second, we need to hear from nurses everywhere with what their experiences have been – and what they think is the remedy to fix the issue.

SEIU has set up a form for nurses to share their experience so that we can then share their stories with others.

If you’re a Registered Nurse, tell us about your experiences with violence on the job in your hospital or care facilities at http://nursealliance.onlineactions.org/wpv

*This blog originally appeared in SEIU Blog on Feb 2, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Protected freedom of speech for workers on Facebook?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Image: Richard NegriIn an era where it’s not unheard of for an employee’s use of social media to lead to their dismissal, one question that comes up more frequently these days regarding a worker’s rights is “Can I say that on Facebook?

This week, the National Labor Relations Board alleged that a Connecticut company acted illegally when they fired an employee after she bad-mouthed her supervisor on Facebook. The labor board charged that the company wrongfully denied the employee union representation during an investigatory interview, as well as “maintained and enforced an overly broad blogging and Internet posting policy.”

CAUTION: This Is Not A Green Light To Trash Talk Your Boss on Facebook

This complaint issued by the NLRB should not be interpreted to suggest that anything employees say on Facebook about their employer will be protected. It doesn’t do that.

Although the National Labor Relations Act bars employers from penalizing their employees for talking about workplace conditions (like wages) or forming a union with their coworkers, as noted on the NLRB’s own Facebook page and on Mashable, Facebook comments can lose protected status depending on a number of factors.

  1. Where the discussion takes place
  2. The subject matter
  3. The nature of the outburst
  4. Whether the comments were provoked by an employer’s unfair labor practice

Although workers’ speech online is still a relatively new medium for the labor board, their position on this case presents the real possibility that workers won’t have to fear speaking up, being heard, and communicating about work issues on Facebook in the future.

As The New York Times‘ Steven Greenhouse notes:

This is the first case in which the labor board has stepped in to argue that workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.

Implications for Online Organizing

Educating, mobilizing and organizing workers online is what our union does to assist traditional boots-on–the-ground union work. There are many tools that enable us to do our work as online organizers, and we certainly rely heavily on social media.

Why? Because with social media platforms like Facebook, we can help establish an environment where workers can freely talk to one another about their issues at work–whatever they may be. This is not so different than member-to-member organizing, except it takes place online and doesn’t require workers to be face-to-face in order to connect with one another.

The Bottom Line: As this investigation moves forward and the January 2011 hearing draw closer, we anticipate push back from the opposition. However, whatever happens, the outcome of this case will go a long way toward defining what employees can and cannot do when it comes to online communications and airing their work issues with their co-workers on Facebook.

This article was originally posted on SEIU.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Does the Fair Labor Standards Act Hate Home Care Workers?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Image: Richard NegriFor the last few months I’ve been thinking about and writing about home care workers. In my work, I find that if folks haven’t had to hire a homecare worker for themselves or their family, it appears that most of these workers fall off the radar.

The problem here is somewhat circular. The demand for homecare services is exploding as the baby boomer generation ages and more seniors and people with disabilities choose to live at home rather than in a nursing home. Low wages, no federal minimum wage or overtime protections, and no benefits contribute to homecare workers leaving their profession (turnover is estimated to be as high as 60% per year). Consumers and patients have difficulty finding and keeping homecare services as a result. Which leads to – yes – increasing demand for homecare workers.

How did this happen?

scales-250.jpgWell, it goes all the way back to 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted to ensure a minimum standard of living for workers through the provision of minimum wage, overtime pay, and other protections – but domestic workers, for some reason, were excluded.

Then 36 years later, in 1974, the FLSA was amended to include domestic employees, such as housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, people who were described as “companions to the elderly or infirm” were for some reason excluded from the law. They were compared to “babysitters.” Weird, huh?

The following year, in 1975, the Department of Labor (DOL) goes on to interpret this “companionship exemption” as including all direct-care workers in the home, even homecare workers employed by third parties, such as home care agencies.

So, in 2001, the Clinton DOL finds that “significant changes in the home care industry” have occurred and issues a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that would have made important changes to this weird exemption. They agreed that it made no sense to exclude this whole industry, as if they were just like “babysitters.”

Clinton’s findings were unfortunately short-lived because the incoming Bush Administration terminated the revision process. Thank you, Mr. Bush.

In 2007 something else happened worth noting: The US Supreme Court, in a case brought by New York home care attendant Evelyn Coke, upheld the DOL’s authority to define this exception to the FLSA. This means, this crazy archaic law can easily be reversed by the DOL.

Meanwhile more than 1.5 million homecare workers are currently living at near poverty level earning a median income of $17,000 a year. Most of these workers, who both love their work and are good at their work, must have two and three jobs to just make ends meet. Many of these workers need food stamps to put food on their tables. All this ultimately comes back to the consumer who often finds it difficult to find and retain high quality homecare services.

The injustice here is, as was said in a June 6 NY Times Op-Ed, ” …while nannies and caregivers make it possible for professional couples to balance the demands of family and work, they often cannot take time to be with their own families when sickness or injury strikes.”

Though I inherently know that we can fix this problem together, I am keen to know what you think is the best way to make this happen.

This article originally appeared on the SEIU Blog.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Hilda Solis’ Approach is a Departure From the Policies of Predecessor Elaine Chao

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Image: Richard NegriThis is an AP story written by SAM HANANEL. I am reposting to UnionReview.com with the hope of spreading the news.

Soon after she became the nation’s labor secretary, Hilda Solis warned corporate America there was “a new sheriff in town.”

Less than a year into her tenure, that figurative badge of authority is unmistakable. Her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.

The changes are a departure from the policies of Solis’ predecessor, Elaine Chao. They follow through on President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to boost funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, increase enforcement and safeguard workers in dangerous industries.

Solis made a splash in October when OSHA slapped the largest fine in its history on oil giant BP PLC for failing to fix safety problems after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.

Garnering less attention, she just finished hiring 250 new investigators to protect workers from being cheated out of wage and overtime pay. She also started a new program that scrutinizes business records to make sure worker injury and illness reports are accurate. And she is proposing new standards to protect workers from industrial dust explosions — an effort the Bush administration had long resisted.

Some business groups say they prefer a more cooperative approach between government and businesses — what the Bush administration called “compliance assistance.”

“Our members are concerned that the department is shifting its focus from compliance assistance back to more of the ‘gotcha’ or aggressive enforcement first approach,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ small business legal center.

Other business leaders point out that the rate of workplace deaths and injuries actually fell to record lows in the previous administration, while the agency also helped employees collect a record amount of back pay for overtime and minimum wage violations. Chao has claimed that success was the result of cooperating with businesses to help them understand the myriad regulations.

Keith Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, said his members “want to build upon that progress and recognize what’s working.”

But a November report from the Government Accountability Office suggested there is widespread underreporting of workplace safety issues. Investigators cited evidence that some employers pressure workers not to report illnesses and injuries and urged OSHA to be more aggressive in verifying business records.

Labor Department spokesman Jaime Zapata said the idea of helping businesses understand the rules remains an important part of the agency’s strategy, along with stepped-up enforcement. Solis plans to hire 100 new OSHA inspectors next year.

“Compliance assistance was not a creation of the last administration,” Zapata said.

The changes have drawn praise from organized labor leaders who spent millions to help get Obama elected. Solis, a former California congresswoman and daughter of immigrant parents who were both union members, is a favorite of labor unions and a longtime advocate for workers’ rights.

“We will not rest until the law is followed by every employer, and each worker is treated and compensated fairly,” Solis said last month as she described a new national public awareness campaign to make sure workers know their rights on the job.

The massive fine against BP certainly caught the public’s attention, but other businesses are also paying a steep price for violating safety rules.

Two months into the new fiscal year, OSHA has already cited six companies for “egregious” violations that carry the highest penalties. There were only four such egregious cases in all of the previous year.

Solis said her agency this year will tackle 90 new rules and regulations next year. One change would give workers more information about how their pay is computed. Another would make employers disclose whether they sought advice from anti-union labor consultants.

*This post originally appeared in The Union Review on January 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Some Things I Took Away From The Organizing Conference Last Week

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Image: Richard NegriLast week I attended the Web 2.0 Organizing Conference in NYC. It was an incredible event packed with hundreds of online organizers from around the country.

While I think the conference was a tremendous success, I think we, in labor, have a long way to go. We have the daunting task of internal organizing so that we can actually do 1/2 of the great things we talk about with online organizing and mobilizing. We have to remember that some unions’ web sites still look they were built out by a third grader. There appears to be an underlying fear among old school unionists to do anything on the web — and most probably because they cannot control the interactivity — or they don’t think they can. This is where we become educators.

We have to educate our bosses on the technology in a way that they can understand, and this is not easy for a whole host of reasons. Some of us don’t know how to explain why some social media tools work and others don’t. We don’t know how to explain that Convio is capable of a lot more than sending a mass email, etc. We can talk about this stuff until we are blue in the face, but often times we just need a shot at doing something to prove that it works. Do it now and apologize later? Maybe.

There are two different things at play for a lot of unions. One is actual organizing and the other is outreach – they are two different things that are frequently carried out by the same individual. (I think one day this will change. I think eventually the unions will realize that they need a team of workers to carry out the online organizing, mobilizing and education and will not put the task to one or two people only. I also think we are not there yet). For now, the same person who is clicking away at Twitter a few times a day is also the person who is getting flyers on web sites and sending emails to workers to get the flyers to print and distribute. The same person should also be building out technology to mine workers’ names and information to turn over to the boots-on-ground organizers. And this is where it can get very tricky for traditional organizing models.

At the conference something was said in one of the workshops that really struck a chord with me. If a worker’s first contact with a union is through a web site form, so should the second — usually with an email. Too often unions will realize they can get a worker’s information mined by the sites but then they want someone to go house visit with the worker immediately after. It shouldn’t, in my opinion, work quite that way. (In other words, I agree with the person who said this at the conference).  It should be: initial contact web site – second contact email. Sure, by the third or fourth correspondence with the worker, have them meet up with someone from the organizing committee, but they might not be ready sooner than that. This is why an online organizer needs to make assessments of the workers in the same way an organizer on ground has to.

The education and mobilization part is becoming easier and easier. We have tools like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube. There are progressive blogs welcoming labor’s messaging, such as FireDogLake, Daily Kos and Huffington Post. Then there are labor specific blogs like UnionReview.com where we can get to the meat of things if we need to.

Of course it is important to comment on stories we see — and that is a brand of online activism the same organizer who is mining workers’ names from the sites must motivate people to do. If we see an article in the mainstream media news that is totally counter everything we believe in as working class union workers, then take ten minutes and leave a comment, sway the discussion and get yourselves heard.

If there is one thing that is clear to me after a few years of doing this stuff it is this — never before have we had the opportunity to actually be the media. I talk about this in workshops at the union I work for and wherever else I am asked to talk, it is pivotal. We have to take into consideration that once upon a time it was a talked-at media. We were talked at from places like the NY Times, CNN, etc. Now journalism is an interactive trade. We are still talked at, but now we can talk back, instantly. If we stay as apathetic online as many of us are in the shops we work at, nothing is going to change. And change is what everyone is crying for.

Finally, I think it is important to mention that some of us who are doing online mobilization and education fall into the rut of singing to the choir. I have been guilty of this also. When we have made some ground on blogs or web sites, got heard and — even better – understood, why not move on to the next site or blog? Don’t get caught up in saying the same thing over and over to the same people. It can be a challenge because sometimes we don’t know if our work is ever really done, but who doesn’t like a challenge?

Do you want to be part of the change or would you rather sit back and hope for the best?

This article originally appeared in UnionReview.com on December 12, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

2010 Vehicles Built By Union Members In The United States and Canada

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Support union jobs in the U.S. and Canada

This guide is prepared by the UAW to provide information for consumers who want to purchase vehicles produced by workers who enjoy the benefits and protections of a union contract.

All these vehicles are made in the United States or Canada by members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) or Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).

Because of the integration of U.S. and Canadian vehicle production, all these vehicles include significant UAW-made content and support the jobs of UAW members.

However, the vehicles marked with a single asterisk (*) are produced in the United States and another country. Light-duty (LD) crew cab models of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, marked with a double asterisk (**), are only manufactured in Mexico. Other models are made in the United States.

When purchasing one of these vehicles, check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

A VIN beginning with “1”, “4” or “5” identifies a U.S.-made vehicle; “‘2:’ identifies a Canadian-made vehicle.

Not all vehicles made in the United States or Canada are built by union-represented workers.  Vehicles not listed here, even if produced in the United States or Canada, are not union-made vehicles.

UAW CARS
Buick Lacrosse
Buick Lucerne
Cadillac CTS
Cadillac DTS
Cadillac STS
Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Corvette
Chevrolet Cruze
Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Sebring
Dodge Avenger
Dodge Caliber
Dodge Viper
Ford Focus
Ford Mustang
Ford Taurus
Lincoln MKS
Mazda6
Mitsubishi Eclipse
Mitsubishi Galant
Pontiac G6
Pontiac Vibe
Saturn Aura
Toyota Corolla*

UAW PICKUPS
Chevrolet Colorado
Chevrolet Silverado**
Dodge Dakota
Dodge Ram Pickup*
Ford F Series
Ford Ranger
GMC Canyon
GMC Sierra**
Mazda B-series
Toyota Tacoma*

UAW SUVs/CUVs
Buick Enclave
Cadillac Escalade ESV
Cadillac Escalade/Hybrid
Chevrolet Suburban
Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Nitro
Ford Escape/Hybrid
Ford Expedition
Ford Explorer
Ford Explorer Sport Trac
GMC Acadia
GMC Tahoe/Hybrid
GMC Yukon/Hybrid
GMC Yukon XL
H2 Hummer
H3 Hummer
Jeep Commander
Jeep Compass
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Liberty
Jeep Patriot
Jeep Wrangler
Lincoln Navigator
Mazda Tribute/Hybrid
Mercury Mariner/Hybrid
Mercury Mountaineer
Mitsubishi Endeavor
Saturn Outlook

UAW VANS
Chevrolet Express
Ford Econoline
GMC Savana

CAW CARS
Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet Impala
Chrysler 300
Dodge Challenger
Dodge Charger
Ford Crown Victoria
Lincoln Town Car
Mercury Grand Marquis

CAW SUVs/CUVs
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Edge
Ford Flex
GMC Terrain
Lincoln MKT
Lincoln MKX
Pontiac Torrent

UAW/CAW Vans
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge Grand Caravan
VW Routan

* The vehicles marked with a single asterisk (*) are produced in the United States and another country.

** The light-duty (LD) crew cab versions of the vehicles marked with a double asterisk (**) are only manufactured in Mexico. Other models are made in the United States.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This article originally appeared in UnionReview.com on September 18, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

Free Trade Gets Some Fresh Thinking

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The Obama administration has taken some nice first steps toward a more worker-friendly vision of global trade. New free trade agreements pushed by the Bush Administration, such as those with Colombia and South Korea, are apparently getting some deep re-thinking – or at least, being put on the back burner while the new Administration sorts out climate change, health care and domestic trade union rights. And refreshingly, on July 16, the new United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced a more proactive strategy to enforce labor provisions in existing free trade agreements. Here’s what’s new under the sun.

First, a bit of explanation about what he’s talking about. Existing free trade agreements from NAFTA on through the most recent deals require our trade partners- at least on paper- to enforce their labor laws and to try to live up to international labor standards.  So what’s so striking about USTR Kirk saying that the Administration wants to make sure existing language in our trade deals is enforced?

In truth, no prior administration has ever sought to actually take the initiative when it comes to these provisions. Instead, we have assumed that of course all our trade partners are enforcing labor rights protections- except when someone points out they aren’t. In other words, enforcement of these provisions has been carried out largely on a complaint-driven basis. This model can’t really work, as the people who are most affected- the most exploited workers in the countries with which we trade- just don’t have practical means to access the mechanisms that have been set up for filing complaints. Thus, not surprisingly, very few complaints get filed, no matter how many abuses actually occur. Even when complaints do get filed- for instance, my organization, ILRF, filed about a dozen cases on behalf of Mexican workers in the early years of NAFTA- those cases take years to resolve, and workers see little return for the effort of engaging in the process.

But there is no downside to the US Trade Representative taking a new look at how we enforce these deals- and, we hope, finding a better way to do it. Real enforcement of the labor provisions in trade deals would be a win-win for both US workers and workers overseas.  Promoting policies that protect workers in other countries makes good sense for the US, economically.  Creating decent and sustainable jobs that raise developing country workers into the middle class is a win-win for workers and businesses, as it expands markets for US and global products. That has long been the main moral argument for more global trade- although few have cared to deal with the ugly reality that many workers in export industries in these countries have been getting sweatshop jobs, not decent jobs, and have not been able, in their lifetimes, to afford the goods they are producing.

Poor working conditions in developing nations not only strip laborers in those countries of their rights, but also create unfair competition in the global labor market. This global “race to the bottom” leads to degradation of conditions, to the increase in ‘sweatshop jobs,’ here at home. We need to bring up the bottom for everyone.

It’s great that USTR Kirk wants to hold trading partners accountable for labor rights, and would be even better if the new Administration sought ways to hold investors- the multinational companies that chase cheap labor around the globe- accountable as well. This would get us past the current ‘free trade’ model to one of what we might call fair trade. For example, we should be supporting terms of trade requiring that investors who benefit from trade deals agree to a floor of decent wages and working conditions that ultimately enable workers to lift themselves out of poverty, and should reward governments that institute laws and policies to regulate ‘footloose’ investors and require companies to make long-term commitments to investments- and their workforce- in developing countries. This is in all of our long term interests.

About the Author: Bama Athreya
is the Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

This article originally appeared on Union Review on August 4, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Struggling Through Tough Times

Friday, August 7th, 2009

It is not always easy to be a cheering squad for organized labor in these times. Unions across the country are cracking into contracts to give concessions, bargaining away rights to keep jobs and, really, it is pretty messy out here for workers and the unions that represent them. I am getting a lot of email and phone calls from a lot of
disgusted people and everyone is asking in one way or another the same question … why? I don’t know specific answers, but I feel it, too.

The economic crisis gave a sense of militancy to employers for their demands in give-backs. The same militancy, unfortunately, the union movement lacks. The Employee Free Choice Act, the one piece of legislation that the workers’ movement is NOT divided on, is taking a beating from the right wing Capitalists who fear fines if a first contract is not signed within a given time frame, who fear majority sign up, who fear that working people might just have a voice in their workplace and threaten their bottom line. The millions of dollars that are spent on fighting the Employee Free Choice Act is working, and it is a shame. Working people deserve the right to organize a union
without fear and retribution, without the harassment the other side says it fears will come from the organizing unions.

There is not a day in the week that another article pops up from somewhere in the  country spilling lies or exaggerations about EFCA – online articles that allow for comments, and all of the comments are against the unions and working people. The sad stuff is that the comments are probably written by people who carry union cards! There
is so much misinformation and lack of union-to-rank-and-file communication that, well, it is pathetic. It needs to change.

I am of the opinion that one of the ways to counter the negative perception of unions is through education, and doing it online more so than anywhere else. Online organizing and mobilizing just happens to be where my skills (and my trade) are, but lately I find it hard to spread out any news but bad news. But that’s how it goes, labor is riding a weird wave right now, it seems. My biggest concern is that our failure to resist the endless concessions is lowering the standards of all workers – organized or not.

While the news of the day might appear more bleak than usual, there is definitely a ton of good stuff to embrace. The problem is that not a lot of people are forwarding that stuff anymore because we are absorbed with the negative. I do try to promote the good stuff on UnionReview.com and on other sites to do my part in changing the
perception of labor unions. And, if there is anything that the online community has taught me is that I am not alone. We are a growing community of workers concerned about our rights, our unions and each other. While labor leaders and Washington politics at times appear to be leading us astray, we stay firm in our own militancy and mindset to right the wrongs that affect us in a struggle we’d been fighting a
long time.

I continue to see the good fight being fought and won with campaigns driven by workers for workers and won for workers. And I will continue to spread as much of that around, it is just impossible today to not acknowledge the other realities we are all facing in these times.

Richard Negri: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

This article originally appeared on Union Review on August 1, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Taxing Employer Health Benefits: The Poison Pill That Would Kill Health Care Reform

Monday, July 6th, 2009

I was asked today to post a diary to Daily Kos written by my boss, Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa – it is beneath the fold. In this piece we are looking into the fact that a tax hike on health benefits to pay for health care reform is a bitter, bitter pill for middle-class wage-earners to swallow.

 

By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa

Congress is finally beginning to grapple with a way to give all U.S. citizens access to affordable health insurance. Unions support universal coverage like a large majority of Americans.

Almost 15 years have gone by since lawmakers considered comprehensive reform to our nation’s health care system with the goal of making sure every American can access health care. How to pay for health care reform was the problem then — and it’s the problem now.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, is suggesting an enormous new tax on employer-sponsored health insurance.

Such a tax would raise hundreds of billions of dollars. That tax revenue would help pay for a public government-sponsored plan for individuals and families.

For those who have employer-provided coverage, creating a “public” plan is a sensible way to make health insurance available to people who can’t get it through their employer and don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. But a tax hike on health benefits to pay for health care reform is a bitter, bitter pill for middle-class wage-earners to swallow.

Most Americans find the prospect of such a tax downright obnoxious. Fortunately, Members of Congress are aware of the public’s hostility to taxing employer-based insurance. A recent national survey by Lake Research Partners shows 80 percent of likely voters oppose taxing health benefits.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the mistake of floating the idea during his presidential campaign. Candidate Barack Obama lashed out with a television commercial calling it “the largest middle-class tax increase in history.” Obama’s opposition to taxing employer-based health insurance was a big reason the Teamsters supported him for president.

For all those reasons, it seems extremely unlikely that a tax on employer-sponsored health insurance will ever become a reality. Or, let us hope.

If it did, it would destroy employer-sponsored health insurance.

Adding a tax onto an already crushing expense for employers and employees would create a huge disincentive to buy employer-sponsored health insurance.

It would mostly burden people who are older or sicker, women of childbearing age, employees of small businesses and residents of high-cost communities.

It would set off a stampede to the public plan. And the public plan would lose a major source of revenue.

There is no reason that revenue to pay for health care reform has to come out of the current health care system. Middle-class taxpayers just gave Wall Street the biggest bailout in history. Wall Street can well afford to return the favor.

We know Members of Congress can be creative when they need to find revenue offsets. Let them use that creativity just as they did for Wall Street to prevent another tax on those of us who live on Main Street.

Eliminating subsidies and preferences for the wealthiest Americans would go a long way to pay for the health care reform this country so desperately needs.

President Obama is suggesting a limit on itemized deductions for the 3 million wealthiest people in this country. That would raise about $270 billion over 10 years.

Another good suggestion is to extend the 2.9 percent Medicare tax, which applies only to wages, to ALL adjusted gross income, would raise $38.1 billion.

Imposing a 1.05 percent surtax on the Medicare tax on single people who earn more than $200,000, or couples that earn more than $250,000, would raise $7.2 billion.

Raising the capital gains tax to 28 percent — the rate under President Ronald Reagan — in top income brackets would raise $34.7 billion.

Limiting tax deductions for stock options and the write-off for intangible assets would add $15 billion to the federal Treasury.

Let’s make health care reform cover the uninsured but not penalize hard-working American families and individuals who have employer-sponsored plans. For those who claim this is class warfare, I’d say it’s been going on for quite a while and it’s time for that to change. Middle-class families — the backbone of this country — deserve better.

James P. HoffaJames P. Hoffa grew up on picket lines and in union meetings. He is the only son of James R. Hoffa, former General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. On his 18th birthday, Hoffa received his own union card and was sworn in by his father. Prior to becoming Administrative Assistant to Michigan Joint Council 43, Hoffa was a labor lawyer in Detroit for 25 years.

Hoffa is recognized as one of the foremost authorities on Union issues. As the most visible and outspoken critic of government trade policies and anti-worker corporate agendas, Hoffa is recognized as a leader on issues that affect working people.

(bio taken from excerpts of http://www.teamster.org/content/leader-issues-affect-working-people with permission from the author)

This article originally appeared in Daily KOS on June 30th and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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