Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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BREAKING—Fight for $15 Organizers Tell SEIU: We Need $15 and a Union

Monday, August 15th, 2016

David MobergThe start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned.

As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own.

On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.

A small group of supporters accompanied Fennell as she approached the stage where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. But security guards stopped them from delivering the letter and escorted them away from the stage. Later, according to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), a supervisor told Fennell and four other organizers they had to fly back to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, at their own expense.

Roughly 75 SEIU organizers and other field staff outside of the union’s national headquarters belong to the UUR. But Fennell and UUR Vice President Nicholas Calderon say that SEIU has told the roughly 100 other Fight for $15 field organizers who might be eligible to join the staff union that it doesn’t employ them.

At first, Calderon says, SEIU maintained their employer was the payroll processing firm that handles their paychecks. Now, he says, the international insists they’re employed by the individual organizing committees that direct each city’s Fight for $15 campaign.

According to Calderon, nearly 99 percent of funding for Fight for $15 organizers, as well as vehicles and supplies, comes from SEIU.

SEIU did not respond by deadline to In These Times’ request for comment.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are strong believers in the Fight for $15 campaign organizers and workers planned yesterday’s action to try to minimize disruption while still having visibility,” Conor Hanlon, UUR president, wrote in a statement to In These Times on Saturday. “We have no interest in stopping the crucial work going on there but do think it important that workers and community allies are aware of how SEIU is treating the Fight for $15.”

“We are disappointed that SEIU chose to escalate and create divisions between workers and organizers rather than act on our shared principles and beliefs about the fair treatment workers deserve,” he continued. “Nonetheless, the Fight for $15 workers will not be silenced and UUR will continue to fight with them until they are recognized as SEIU employees and getting the treatment they deserve.”

Fight for $15 organizers have a long list of grievances against SEIU. They are worried about the instability of their jobs and a tendency of the union to ramp up staff for one campaign, then shift only some of the staff to the next project. Others argue that because of the long hours, their relatively modest salaries do not amount to $15 an hour by the time their pay is divided by work hours, often much more than 40 hours a week.

But the biggest grievance organizers express is that SEIU pays them to advocate for the right of every worker to join a union but denies that same right to its own organizers. Ultimately, some workers say, SEIU’s position may undermine public support and open up lines for employer attacks.

Hypocrisy scars an organization, says Fennell, and could weaken the union in its important fight.

“We don’t have the right to join a union that we’re fighting for other workers to have,” she told In These Times. “When we’re fighting for everyone to have $15 an hour, we should have it ourselves.”

The initial organizing of Fight for $15 focused on fast-food workers in New York but quickly spread to other occupations and across the country. It includes workers in child care and elder care, early childhood education, university research and teaching, manufacturing, fashion and other building services, many of whom may move frequently from low-wage job to low-wage job over their lives.

The campaign, almost entirely funded by SEIU, can claim credit for raising pay for about 17 million of the roughly 64 million workers less than $15 an hour, with 10 million on the path to $15.

Its progress has come mainly from winning stronger state and local laws—not from any dramatic uptick in low-wage workers forming unions. That is true even in the low-wage industries that, unlike fast food, were already often organized to varying degrees by SEIU and others.

Although the strategy for establishing unions is unclear, Fight for $15 appears committed to expanding the range of workers that SEIU is able to mobilize for direct action. Tactics include strikes at fast food outlets and legislative campaigns for higher minimum wages, whether across the board or piecemeal.

For the past couple of years, the campaign’s emphasis on politics has increased, as illustrated by the choice of Richmond, Virginia, for this weekend’s meeting—billed as the organization’s first convention.

The decision to meet in the capital of the Confederacy also reflected an intensification of efforts to link the problems of America’s low-wage economy to continued structural racism with its roots in slavery. Fight for $15 must fight for both racial and economic injustice, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the opening session of the meeting.

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said.

Likewise, you can’t advocate effectively for unions, some Fight for 15 organizers say, without having the right to join one yourself.

It is true that over the labor movement’s long history, many unions have fought with their staff over whether staff could or should organize.

But a movement like the Fight for $15, which is founded on the right of every worker to join a union, is more likely to win broad support if it follows the old adage: Practice what you preach.

At a time when the labor movement is especially vulnerable, unions need to avoid any grounds that could cost them public support—especially in a campaign as promising and crucial as the Fight for $15.

Senate Dining Room Workers Win $1 Million in Back Wages

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Bruce VailThe Department of Labor [last] week confirmed persistent charges of labor abuses at the U.S. Senate dining room on Capitol Hill, ruling that workers there are owed more than a $1 million in back wages.

An investigation found that 674 workers are owed back wages of $1,008,302, and that the employers—food service contractor Restaurant Associates and labor subcontractor Personnel Plus—violated the Service Contract Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Workers in the restaurant industry are among the lowest paid workers in our economy. Most struggle to afford life’s basic expenses and pay their bills: they shouldn’t have to deal with paychecks that don’t accurately reflect the hard work and the wages to which they are legally entitled,” says David Weil, administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The ruling is a victory for a union organizing campaign taking place among the cooks, waiters and other food service workers. They are seeking a minimum wage of $15 an hour and representation by the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.

In the campaign assisted by union advocacy group Good Jobs Nation, the workers have been charging Restaurant Associates with an array of labor abuses, including job misclassification, failure to pay legally required overtime rates and unfair efforts to block union organizing.

Labor law violations “are happening all the time right under the noses of the lawmakers,” says Good Jobs Nation spokesman Paco Fabian. “If it’s happening here, it’s likely happening at other sites,” where the federal government employs non-union contractors to do food service work and other essential tasks, Fabian says.

Restaurant Associates Senior Vice President Sam Souccar provided the following statement regarding the Labor Department decision:

“Restaurant Associates understands that our Associates are the heart of our business and we value and respect them. We conduct business in a professional, safe, ethical and responsible manner. Since January we have worked diligently with the Department of Labor in regard to our contract … We discovered as a result of the DOL’s review that some of our Associates were not properly classified in appropriate job categories under the Service Contract Act (SCA). The misclassifications were largely attributable to administrative technicalities related to our Associates’ evolving day-to-day work responsibilities, which in some cases crossed multiple job categories. Restaurant Associates has corrected the classifications and is working closely with the DOL to ensure payments are made as soon as possible to all impacted Associates. We are 100 percent committed to ensuring classifications are accurate going forward, and have implemented enhanced monitoring and training at the US Senate and in all accounts where the SCA applies.”

Dione Tellez, 57, a food service worker and cook at Senate dining facilities, tells In These Times that she has been classified as a food service worker even though she often labors as a grill cook, which is a better-paid position. A nine-year veteran on the job, she is earning $14.21 an hour, she says, and lives with her adult son because she cannot afford to rent an apartment in the pricey Washington, D.C., area.

Speaking in Spanish (translated by Fabian), Tellez says, “I want to be paid for the job that I do. It’s about respect. I am entitled to get what I have earned … I am sick and tired of being treated unfairly.”

Restaurant Associates is a subsidiary of U.K.-based multinational Compass Group, which claims to have about 500,000 employees in 50 separate countries. In Washington D.C., the company also has a contract to operate cafeterias and dining facilities at the Smithsonian Institutions, where workers are represented by the UNITE HERE Local 23.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on July 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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.

Hundreds gathered in DCA yesterday, but it wasn’t for what you think.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

seiuYesterday I joined my brothers and sisters around the world at Ronald Reagan national airport in the demand for higher wages, better trainings and working conditions for airport workers. I got involved with the union and Fight for 15 because I saw the imbalance of power that is hurting people.

As a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport, I am proud to say that because we have a union, we have some of the highest working standards in the country, but I know there are many more who don’t and need our support. Folks like Ababuti Ogalla, a wheelchair assistant at Boston Logan Airport. Like many, he is an immigrant who came to America to build a decent life for his family.

“I started working at Boston Logan in 2011, but I quickly realized that with two kids and a wife to support, my pay doesn’t even cover my rent and bills. That’s not the America I believed in. Now I work two jobs, barely have any time to spend with my family, and still struggle to make ends meet.”

Ababuti is right. That’s not the America any of us believe in. We continue to fight because we know we can raise the minimum wage and support the ones we love with dignity and respect.

Too many airport workers are paid minimum wage or less and that’s not right. We take pride in our jobs and play a key role in helping more than 393 million passengers yearly enjoy a safe and secure travel experience. But without health insurance or sick days, we risk losing our jobs every time we are sick or have a family emergency. It doesn’t make sense; America spends billions annually on airport security, yet the very people charged with implementing security measures are paid poverty wages.

The rally at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was just one of a series of events this week. We hosted our first ever National Airport Worker Convention, where we developed a national strategy to win $15 and union rights for all airport workers. We then took to Congress to urge our representatives to seek a federal solution to the problems faced by contracted out workers at our nation’s airports. Many pledged their support to our fight, knowing that both, $15 and union rights, will ensure better standards for workers and passengers.

By marching, protesting, and striking at airports across the U.S., already 45,000 airport workers have won wage increases and critical improvements including healthcare and paid sick leave. But there is still so much more to do. And despite all of us coming from different parts of the country and world — the United States, Europe and Australia – we all left the convention committed to one fight and one collective voice.

I am excited to see the positive changes we’re going to bring to airport workers.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

The Union Behind the Biggest Campaign Against Walmart in History May Be Throwing in the Towel. Why?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

David MobergIn the pre-dawn chill of Black Friday 2012, a half-dozen yellow school buses pulled up at a South Side Chicago Walmart store, disgorging a small group of striking Walmart workers and nearly 250 supporters.

Along with strikers and allies in 100 other cities around the country, they had come out that day under the aegis of the year-old Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), created to give Walmart workers a vehicle to protest their mistreatment—including low wages, skimpy benefits, erratic scheduling and aggressive management suppression of employees’ voices at work.

“Somewhere, somehow, down the line, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Tyrone Parker, a striking night-shift stocker, at that first Black Friday action.

“If you weren’t excited after some of those Black Fridays, you were dead,” says formerUnited Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) President Joseph Hansen, who started OUR Walmart and the labor-community coalition Making Change at Walmart in 2005. “It was going to be a long haul, but I thought we had no choice.”

After Hansen’s retirement last fall, the union’s 55-member executive board elected Secretary-Treasurer Anthony “Marc” Perrone as the next president. Leading up to the vote, Perrone had questioned the amount of money that had been devoted to the Walmart campaign without gaining any new members for the union, whose membership has declined in recent years. Several sources close to the campaign, not named because they are not authorized to release financial information, estimate that the overall cost had been about $7 million to $8 million a year.

In April, four months into Perrone’s tenure, the Washington Post reported rumors of potential cutbacks to OUR Walmart. In These Times’s sources say the union plans to cut the campaign’s budget by as much as 65 percent.

Sources close to the new leadership say no cuts are planned, only realignments, such as spending more money on advertising and public relations campaigns to highlight Walmart’s faults. At the same time, UFCW will try to parlay the Walmart efforts into “a broader retail campaign,” according to new Executive Vice President Stuart Appelbaum, regarded as an ally of Perrone. This probably will encourage more organizing at other retailers to win contracts and dues-paying members.

As Buzzfeed reported in June, the union also removed two directors of the Walmart effort, Dan Schlademan and Andrea Dehlendorf, in May. Meanwhile, the board of OUR Walmart—five worker-members and the two directors—has sought and received new funding from two progressive donors, according to the director of a funders’ group to which both belong.

Most key labor leaders, whatever their view of OUR Walmart, are unwilling to talk very much, because they hope to continue to work with UFCW on the Walmart campaigns, if possible.

Although OUR Walmart and the Fight for 15 (the Service Employees International Union-backed fast-food workers’ campaign, which has targeted McDonald’s) have been expensive for the unions, they’ve stoked worker and public fervor against two of the mightiest global corporations.

“The union’s biggest accomplishment is the development of OUR Walmart,” says an ally in the campaign who feels that new spirit may be lost in the reshuffling.

How big is too big?

The UFCW largely ignored Walmart when it was a small-town, Southern five-and-dime chain. But as Walmart moved north and west and into groceries, the union had to challenge the mega-retailer to protect its contracts. A massive array of strategies has been tested, with little success: organizing department by department (when butchers at a Texas store voted for the union, Walmart eliminated all its butchers); organizing in Quebec, where laws favor unions (Walmart closed the store); organizing in strong union towns, like Las Vegas (several campaigns failed after supervisors intimidated a majority of workers out of unionizing).

UFCW has also tried educating the public about the high costs of Walmart’s low prices. In 2005, both SEIU and UFCW began publicity campaigns about the corporation’s misbehavior (called, respectively, Walmart Watch and Wake Up, Walmart). Walmart Watch revealed a 2005 internal company memo on how Walmart might cut its already low pay and benefits without incurring bad publicity by increasing the number of part-time workers. Such well-aimed, sharp darts wounded the company’s reputation and may have been a factor in declining profits, although customers have also faulted Walmart for badly stocked, disorganized stores, unattractive produce and poor service.

But these campaigns did not yield union members. By failing to organize the retail behemoth, which provides 8.9 percent of jobs in the sector (which in turn employs nearly 1 in 9 U.S. workers), unions lost power to set wage and labor standards. Since 1983, the percentage of retail workers who belong to unions has declined by half—to 4.4 percent.

When Schlademan started work at the UFCW in 2010 on what would become the new Walmart strategy, he tried to learn from workers and organizers in past campaigns, as he explained in an interview with In These Times in December. First, he concluded, the campaign had to break down the barriers isolating workers from each other, both within and among stores. Second, Walmart workers wanted to be “front and center” in the campaigns and in solving problems. Third, workers had to discover the power of collective action, primarily through strikes, which Schlademan called “probably one of the most liberating things labor does. Striking—just [the act of] striking—helps build leaders.”

Over the next three years, OUR Walmart’s key achievement was mobilizing workers to take direct action against the company. OUR Walmart members challenged management at both their workplaces and at shareholder meetings in Bentonville, Ark., often with work stoppages, sit-ins or similar protests. In the process, effective and committed rank-and-file leaders emerged.

The campaign also won praise for its effective use of online organizing. Organizers and members used the web to move workers into reallife collective protests, build small groups of leaders at individual stores, and arrange local and national direct actions. The online connections produced more direct, horizontal relationships between Walmart workers than in most unions, which have a more hierarchical organization.

OUR Walmart said the campaign was just trying to make Walmart a better corporate citizen, not organize a union. Technically that was true (and tactically necessary, given labor law restrictions on picketing employers for long periods). But in spirit, OUR Walmart resembled a strong minority union, without enough votes to win a formal union and collective bargaining, but with other tools that could be used to solve workers’ problems.

The campaign wrung several concessions from Walmart. Workers won a few pilot programs to reduce inconsiderate scheduling, and a worker-led campaign to “Respect the Bump” yielded better pregnancy accommodations. Accompanied by publicity campaigns attacking the company’s stinginess and its owners’ extreme wealth, worker actions undoubtedly helped prompt Walmart’s decision in April to raise its lowest wages to $9 an hour this year and $10 next year.

Hopes for transforming Walmart—and thereby the whole low-wage economy—rose among supporters.

OUR Walmart is “a little IWW-ish,” Schlademan said in December. In their early 20th-century heyday, the Industrial Workers of the World eschewed contracts in favor of direct action at work. In OUR Walmart, Schlademan sees a similar appetite for militant action and a more vigorous involvement in the collective, horizontal conversation.

At the time, Schlademan said, OUR Walmart was preoccupied with securing its right to exist without being attacked all the time: “Walmart must realize OUR Walmart is not going away.”

But sustaining an expensive campaign like OUR Walmart is difficult with voluntary dues of $5 a month per member. Schlademan has since been cut from the UFCW payroll but is still working with OUR Walmart. And rumors of UFCW withdrawing funds have begun circulating, although a network of progressive donors recently pledged money for OUR Walmart to maintain its work.

If UFCW, the organization’s sponsor, cuts back on OUR Walmart, how will managers—and workers—interpret the move?

Critics of the union’s focus on OUR Walmart believe that broadening the agenda to all retail will spread around organizing dollars more effectively, yielding more unionized shops and more dues-paying members. No organizing is easy, but looking beyond Walmart may provide more realistic targets. In New York—the historic stronghold of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (now a department within UFCW)—UFCW Vice President and RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum has overseen successful organizing of clothing boutique workers, such as clerks at the Swedish-owned “cheap chic” H&M stores.

Victory at such companies will bring new members but will not necessarily transform the retail industry the way success at a major chain like Walmart or Home Depot could.

The union will almost certainly maintain some special focus on Walmart. “Nobody wants to walk away from or abandon effort on Walmart,” says one union staffer, who was not authorized to speak with reporters. But the union’s Walmart project “will be a more media-focused campaign,” relying on print and television ads, says the staffer.

Media buys can be very expensive, however. Forbes reported that UFCW “spent six figures” on a Fourth of July ad blitz portraying Walmart as unpatriotic for stashing $76 billion in 15 foreign tax havens. And if past attacks haven’t altered Walmart’s stance on unions, will more exposés do the trick?

On the other hand, the sweeping victories of the 1930s and 1960s in industries from automobiles to healthcare suggest the value of a sector-wide strategy for retail. But can one union take on a sector with 16 million workers?

It starts with the workers

Stephen Lerner is the architect of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, one of the most successful sector-wide organizing efforts of the past three decades. He argues that, with labor hanging by a thread, most U.S. unions have gone into defense mode—which only occasionally delays further slippage—rather than playing offense using creative, large-scale campaigns.

Though most analysts see the evershifting Walmart campaign as a defensive effort to keep Walmart from driving down labor standards at other, unionized grocery chains, Lerner believes OUR Walmart is an example of a sweeping, innovative effort. “It’s pretty impressive what workers in OUR Walmart have achieved so far,” he says. He notes that strikes have yielded concrete victories and that creative online organizing has allowed workers to help move people into action, not simply to “scream into the void.”

For workers to form a union against the will of an industry or a big company like Walmart requires “an enormous amount of time” to understand the issues, overcome fears, develop leaders, and formulate a “theory of how to beat the company,” which may vary from target to target, Lerner says. Justice for Janitors’ big breakthrough, in a 1988 organizing campaign in Denver, came in part from understanding that targeting building owners, for whom janitorial costs are minuscule, was essential to organizing the small, costsensitive cleaning companies. “There’s not one tactic or secret sauce to take on an entire industry,” he says.

As UFCW revises or expands its organizing mission, it would seem smart to look for ways to apply the strategy and style of work of OUR Walmart—that is, educating and empowering member-organizers and leaders—throughout its retail organizing. That includes recognizing the utility of the internet for real organizing, breaking barriers and building solidarity and expanding open, direct, horizontal lines of communication among members and workplace leaders. It also includes realizing the crucial role of strikes and direct action in building a sense of collective power and communicating with supporters and the public.

OUR Walmart member Tyfani Faulkner, 32, a high school graduate from Sacramento who knew nothing about the labor movement when she took her job, now loves going online to answer questions or solve others’ problems, or to work for legislation or a candidate she favors (most recently, Bernie Sanders). Her “proudest moment,” she says, was participating in a two-hour sit-in at Walmart this past November. OUR Walmart has produced many powerful worker-leaders and vocal progressives like Faulkner who organize effectively—and at no cost.

The emergence of leaders like Faulkner reinforces the urgency of taking seriously Lerner’s key advice, which is as simple as it is often ignored: “You can’t win without the workers.”

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.com on August 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Seattle Mayor and Sea-Tac Airport Worker Urge American Cities to Lead the Fight to Raise Wages

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

seiu“Please take what we did in Seattle and export it across the country,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told a crowd Wednesday during a panel discussion on the minimum wage at the Center for American Progress.
Also speaking at the CAP event was SeaTac Airport worker Socrates Bravo. He says the national minimum wage debate is about more than finances; it’s about families.

As a ramp agent for SeaTac subcontractor Menzies Aviation, Bravo has to work more than 20 hours of overtime per week to try to make ends meet. His hectic schedule means sacrificing valuable quality time with his 2-year-old daughter.

“She is asleep when I get home and still sleeping when I leave for work,” he says. “It’s very sad but missing our children growing up is the reality for me and other co-workers.”

Bravo discussed the impact of big businesses using bad contractors to hold down wages and benefits in cities across the nation at Wednesday’s panel which included SEIU Executive Vice President Valarie Long, SEIU Healthcare 775NW President David Rolf, CAP Action Fund President Ted Strickland, UCLA Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Michael Reich, and Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue Partners.

Bravo also told how airport workers in partnership with the community have fought successfully to pass Proposition 1 in SeaTac.

Although the bill to increase SeaTac’s minimum wage is being fought in the courts, airport workers have helped build momentum among workers and elected officials in Washington. Earlier this year, Seattle City Council passed its $15 minimum wage bill. Just last week, 33,000 Washington home care workers won a new union contract with hourly wages above $14 and a retirement plan.

Bravo hopes these victories will inspire other cities and Congress to take action to address the challenges mothers and fathers face while working hard to provide for their families.

Low wages are especially unfair for airport ramp workers like Socrates who put their lives on the line every day. Since 2006, four Menzies workers have died following accidents at US airports. Last week, and American Airlines contract worker died in Detroit.

“The fight at SeaTac airport that spread to Seattle is not just about receiving a $15 an hour minimum wage. It’s about fairness, dignity and respect,” Bravo said. “It allows a voice to the voiceless. It allows us to live a life. As parents, we just want to give our children an opportunity to live a better life than we lived.”

“This blog originally appeared in the SEIU Blog section on September 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/09/seattle-mayor-and-sea-tac-airport-worker-urge-amer.php

Raising America This Labor Day

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

seiuThe weekend and Labor Day are important times to reflect on and honor the courage of generations of working men and women–the people who brought us Labor Day and countless other benefits won by the labor movement, from better wages to improved working conditions.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry adds that it is also a “pivotal time to take stock of where our families, our economy and our democracy are heading.”

In an op-ed for The Nation, Henry writes that we face an “incredible challenge”:

Half of all Americans now make less than $15 an hour. Of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in America, eight are service sector jobs. Service sector jobs are the heartbeat of our economy and our communities, from the folks who care for the elderly and our children, to those who cook and serve our food to those who clean and secure our offices. Moving our economy forward must include making service jobs into good jobs with wages that you can raise a family on.

From home care workers to adjunct professors and security officers to fast food workers, people are uniting in the largest, most determined movement for working families that modern America has ever seen. And we’re winning:

All told, 6.7 million workers have achieved better pay since fast food workers began striking less than two years ago, either through states or cities moving to raise minimum wages or through collective bargaining. These brave workers are building the momentum to raise wages and get our economy roaring again.

Yet, Henry notes, our prosperity depends not just on economic justice, but the fundamental American principles of liberty and justice for all.

The taking of Mike Brown’s life in Ferguson, Missouri only weeks ago reminds us that social and economic justice must go hand in hand for America to thrive. To solve these issues, we need opportunities for all Americans to fully participate in our economy and improve the quality of life for their families. That’s why we must also fix our broken immigration system and uphold and protect civil rights and democratic participation for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.

Enjoy a happy and safe Labor Day. For those who have the day off, best wishes for enjoyable celebrations with families and friends–and for those who are on the clock, thank you for the hard work that keeps America moving.

Originally appeared in SEIU Blog on August 31, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.seiu.org/blog/

Furloughed workers rally in the rain to end the GOP shutdown

Friday, October 11th, 2013

seiu-org-logoToday hundreds of furloughed federal workers gathered by the Capitol in pouring rain to protest the reckless government shutdown in a rally organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).

SEIU Executive Vice President Eileen Kirlin spoke about the damage the shutdown is causing to working people who rely on federally-funded services like Head Start, as well as to federal workers who arefurloughed or working without regular paychecks for the duration of the shutdown.

Andrew Sailes is one such worker. Andrew is a SEIU NAGE member and a Department of Defense civilian employee whose work as an electronic measurement equipment mechanic ensures our troops have working vehicles. He was furloughed over the summer because of the sequester cuts and was furloughed again because of the shutdown. Andrew is back to work under the Pay Our Military Act, but because of the shutdown, his program doesn’t have enough funds for him to do his job properly.

Many Members of Congress joined SEIU and fellow union leaders in speaking out, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and CPC co-chairs Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).

This article was originally printed on SEIU on October 10, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Jill Raney, SEIU organizer.

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.

Minnesota Janitors and Security Officers Set Strike Vote, Say Corporate Elite Has Power to Unlock Better Future

Friday, January 25th, 2013

seiu-org-logoFor janitors and security officers in Minneapolis, members of SEIU Local 26, a raise would help bring them above the poverty line. It would allow them to  pay for basic necessities, including groceries, school, rent or mortgage. And they’re  prepared to fight for themselves, their fellow workers, and their families in order to achieve those things.

As the next step in their fight for a living wage and and affordable health care, members of Local 26 held  a rally in downtown Minneapolis yesterday after contract bargaining came to a standstill. At the rally a strike petition was circulated, with a strike vote is scheduled for February 9.

“It’s not fair that while our productivity is going up, our wages are not keeping pace,” said Margarita Del Angel, a janitor who spoke at the rally. “We are being forced to do more and more work for the same amount, so our employers can cut back on workers and save money at our expense. And now, they are demanding to pay us even less. They want to cut wages for more than half of us…They want to lock us into poverty, while continuing to grow richer at our expense.”

For the first time ever, more than 6,000 janitors and security officers in the Twin Cities and suburbs are negotiating new contracts simultaneously. In 2008, a new contract was negotiated for 1,000 security officers after they struck in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 2006 and 2009,  janitors voted to authorize strikes, but both were narrowly averted.

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The average worker in Local 26 earns $20,503 annually. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,050.

Members of SEIU Local 26 clean and protect some of the Twin Cities’ largest office buildings that house some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, including Target, US Bank, and Wells Fargo. The contracts expired December 31, but after months of negotiations, employers are still unwilling to bargain in good faith.

“We’ve tried to bargain in good faith,” said Demetruis Moore, a member of the bargaining committee who’s worked as a security officer for more than five years. “But it’s clear they have no intention of doing so. Either come to the table and bargain in good faith, or we’re done. We’ll see you in the streets.”
If Local 26 members vote on February 9 to authorize a strike, the bargaining committees would then decide when and if a strike was necessary, as well as set a date for a strike. If a strike were to happen, it would be one of the largest strikes to ever happen in downtown Minneapolis.

“While we are proposing fair raises to move workers forward, our employers are demanding cuts. This would move workers backwards,” said Moore, the member of the bargaining committee. “The corporate elite in this country have the power to help unlock a better future for all of Minnesota. It’s time they do that.”

This post was originally posted on SEIU on January 25, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mariah Quinn is a writer for SEIU.

Inferior workplace health and safety regulations are killing us (literally!)

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Image: Kate ThomasOn Monday, May 16, SEIU member Cathy Stoddart, RN, BSN spoke at a briefing with U.S. Senate staff about the importance of strong health and safety workplace regulations. The briefing familiarized HELP committee staff with the benefits of regulations for American consumers and workers, as well as the costs of government’s failure to ensure a safe workplace.

In her dual role serving an Executive Board member of her SEIU Healthcare PA and as a nurse at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital, Cathy is no stranger to making her voice heard on workers’ rights and workplace safety issues. She spoke in detail on Monday about how we might easily and affordably strengthen health and safety regulations to prevent injuries and illnesses, save lives, and improve patient care. “Regulations don’t kill jobs,” Cathy pointed out, “but a lack of workplace health and safety regulations does kill workers.”

The reality is much more needs to be done to regulate hazards that healthcare workers face. The statistics speak for themselves…

Healthcare workers have higher injury and illness rates than workers in mining, manufacturing or construction; yet very few health and safety standards for these caregiving workers exist.

For example, there are currently no standards to protect healthcare workers from the leading hazard they face: an epidemic of neck, back and shoulder injuries from manual patient handling. A Safe Patient Handling regulation that required the provision of lifting devices to protect healthcare workers from career-ending back, neck and shoulder injuries would go a long way towards solving this pervasive problem. With the recent anti- worker rhetoric combined with staffing cutbacks, we are also seeing an alarming increase in workplace violence. We need a national OSHA workplace violence prevention standard to protect healthcare workers from getting assaulted by patients, residents and clients.

A bill that’s currently making the rounds in the House Judiciary and Rules Committees presents a huge potential barrier to removing the threats healthcare workers still face on the job. H.R. 10 (the REINS Act) would require both Houses of Congress to approve virtually all new major regulations before they go into effect, which means that any new regulation would get caught up in Congressional gridlock.

What would passage of the REINS Act specifically mean for working people? Nothing good, that’s for sure. HR 10, if enacted, would essentially make it impossible to ever issue another regulation to protect workers from on-the-job hazards. Consider that in the year 2010 alone, federal agencies issued more than 90 major new rules that could likely have been subject to the REINS Act’s requirements. There are simply not enough hours in a day to allow Congress to allot the time necessary to consider and approve even the most important rules (much less 90 of them).

The OSHA standard setting process currently in place is essentially broken. Standards that previously took a year to promulgate now take decades, if they come out at all. We need to expedite rulemaking, not slow it down, like the REIN Act aims to do.

This article originally appeared in SEIU Blog on May 19, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

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.

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