Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘union’

8 Ways That ALEC Is Targeting Working Families

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallInformation about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in secret to push state-level policy to more extreme levels is coming to light more and more and America’s working families are starting to stand up to the group’s corporate-driven agenda. While ALEC’s agenda is all over the policy map, the organization has a particular focus on pushing new laws that attack working families and undercut the rights of workers, both in the workplace and in retirement.  Here are eight of the most dangerous and most widespread ways that ALEC is targeting workers and their right to a voice on the job.

8. Voter ID Act: Laws directly based on or similar to ALEC’s Voter ID Act have been introduced in recent years in nearly every state, with more than a dozen states passing or strengthening such laws in the past three years. These laws disproportionately affect working families, senior citizens, people of color and residents of rural areas and help elect legislators who vote against the rights and needs of workers.

7. Paycheck Protection Bills: ALEC has at least four different versions of this legislation, each one more extreme than the last, that were introduced 20 times in various states in 2013. These bills range from requiring that each employee sign an annual form authorizing that their union dues be allowed to be used for political purposes to preventing payroll deductions from being used for union dues. These bills provide no additional rights to workers and do nothing more than weaken the ability of workers to collectively bargain by depriving unions of the funds they need to fight on behalf of their members.

6. Direct Union Assaults: Through model legislation such as the Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act and the De-certification Elections Act, introduced in Idaho and Arizona, respectively, ALEC is seeking to make public employees vote over and over again to retain their union status, giving ALEC and other groups the opportunity to flood workers with anti-union propaganda.

5. Public Employees’ Portable Retirement Option Act: Through this and similar bills, 10 states have attempted to weaken or eliminate defined-benefit pension plans and replace them with defined-contribution plans, which make retirees depend on the market for how much money they have for retirement and health care.

4. Council on Efficient Government Act: As Orwellian a name as any in the ALEC arsenal, this legislation does nothing but use government money to create a commission to figure out ways to privatize government services. In other words, yet another example of ALEC attempting to get taxpayer money into the hands of private corporations without any accountability or taxpayer recourse.

3. “Right to Work” Act: This incredibly misleadingly titled legislation gives no one any new rights and does nothing but prevent employees from paying for the benefits that unions earn on their behalf. So-called “right to work” for less states end up paying their workers a lot less than states that don’t have such laws. In 2013, 15 states introduced this legislation.

2. Parent Trigger Act: These laws give parents the option, once a majority of parents sign a petition, to change a public school into a charter school, give students vouchers or close the school. Seven states have passed parent trigger laws similar to the ALEC bill. Parent Trigger laws force parents to make a bad choice—either stick with a poorly performing school, or take drastic actions that are likely to make things worse, do little to help students and are a boon for corporate groups that run private schools. Meanwhile one of the best tools for helping working families reach the middle class—public education—gets less and less funding.

1. Wage Protections: In 14 states, ALEC model legislation attacking wage protections were introduced. The bills sought to weaken or eliminate laws that require prevailing wages, living wages or minimum wages. Big corporations heavily support these efforts, which would only serve to lower wages for workers.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, working families and other opponents of the ALEC agenda will be rallying at the conservative group’s convention in Chicago. Those who are in the area can RSVP online.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 7, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Michigan Republicans may slash university funding as revenge for union contracts

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Laura ClawsonIf Michigan Republicans are campaigning to be named worst Republicans in a state that voted for Barack Obama twice and has two Democratic senators, they can probably relax. Because wow. A Toledo Blade editorial explains that both Wayne State University and the University of Michigan adopted eight-year contracts with their faculty and staff before the lame-duck-passed anti-union freeloader law could go into effect. Because the contracts were passed before the law went into effect, it won’t affect faculty and staff at the universities until the contracts expire. That means that, while no one will have to join the union, people who don’t join will have to pay a fee covering the costs of their representation.

But majority Republicans on the state House’s higher education subcommittee were furious at what they perceived as an attempt to get around the new right-to-work law.So they voted to slash both schools’ state aid by 15 percent. That could mean a cut of $47 million for U of M and $27.5 million for Wayne State. One GOP lawmaker boasted that “we‘ve sent a serious message here,” and accused the universities of trying to violate state law.

It’s not clear how either school could have broken a law that is not yet in effect. And Wayne State president Allan Gilmour, a tough negotiator who was Ford Motor Co.’s longtime chief financial officer, told lawmakers that the long contract actually saves taxpayers money.

The “serious message” Michigan Republicans are sending here, of course, is “we’re unrepentant assholes.” And if passed into law, this particular piece of unrepentant assholery will hit not just faculty and staff at the two universities but students as well, since you don’t cut university funding by 15 percent without leading to increased tuition, cuts that affect the quality of education offered, or—most likely—both.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 25, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

Working America: 10 Things You Should Know About Paycheck Deception

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

dougfooteSince 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.

In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.

Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:

Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.

Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.

Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”

Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.

Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent—and like our elections, majority rules.

Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart Research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.

Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k) and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions—these laws would make that process more difficult.

Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts.The laws frequently violate the First Amendment—since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court—they’ll probably lose.

Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions. Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work” state.

So-called “right to work” laws ban fair share clauses in contracts, forcing unions to represent workers whether or not they pay dues—another tactic used to weaken unions.

Learn more at Progress MissouriBuilding the Middle ClassThe Brennan Center for JusticeNonprofit Quarterly and Mother Jones.

This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on March 15, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the AuthorDoug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

New England Grocery Unions Face Grueling Obamacare Test (Update)

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Bruce VailUPDATE: UFCW union leaders in New England announced a tentative settlement with Stop & Shop March on 4, following marathon negotiating sessions over the previous few day. Details of the settlement are being withheld pending formal presentation of the new contract to union members for a ratification vote. According to the union’s special Stop & Shop web site, the union will announce a date for the ratification vote in a matter of days. 

Union leaders and grocery chain managers are back at the negotiating table in New England today in a bitter and messy attempt to adapt existing health insurance programs to the new realities of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare. The negotiators—from the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and the Stop & Shop grocery chain—face a March 3 deadline that could provoke a large scale strike or lockout affecting 40,000 workers.

Standing in the way of an agreement at this point are certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act set to go into effect in 2014, says Rick Charette, president of UFCW Local 1445, based in Dedham, Mass. Charette—who leads a coalition of five UFCW locals representing grocery workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire—says the problems appear intractable, and negotiators are desperate to find a solution.

“I’ve been around labor contract negotiations for 40 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Charette said in an interview this week with Working In These Times. “It’s a nightmare” that has been created not by corporate pressure to cut labor costs, but by the fumbling bureaucratic requirements of federal health law, he says.

Stop & Shop faces increased health insurance costs as high as $250 million over three years should all 40,000 UFCW workers continue receiving the same health care insurance benefits as under the current contract (which expired Feb. 17 but has been extended for two weeks), according to Charette. The increased costs are mostly created, he explains, when the Obamacare requirement that medical benefit caps be eliminated prompts insurance companies to raise rates to cover the greater costs.

“What is just crazy about this is that Stop & Shop is one of the few food retailers out there that has had good insurance for part-timers—most grocery companies don’t provide anything at all,” says Charette. “It punishes the companies that are trying [to do] the right thing.”

Stop & Shop’s proposed solution to the problem has been to eliminate coverage for thousands of part-time workers, but UFCW is not ready to agree to that, Charette says. “The theory is that part-timers are, by definition, low-income workers, and therefore they will qualify for government subsidies for individual health insurance under Obamacare. Well, that’s a nice theory, but what does that mean in practice for our members?” he asks. “Nobody seems to know.”

“When we backed Obamacare, we were told that if we had good health insurance and wanted to keep it, we could,” Charette adds. “What happened to that?”

The dilemma for the Stop & Shop worker is indeed a very real and vey difficult one, according to Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center. The same pressures on the low-income, part-time workers in New England are being felt around the country, he says, and the issue will certainly rise in public prominence over the next year, as the 2014 deadline for elimination of caps approaches.

“This is sort a special problem that applies to part-timers who meet the government definition of low-income,” Jacobs says. “The unions that are going to feel it the most are UNITE HERE and UFCW, and some parts of SEIU,” he predicts. Since there is no Obamacare requirement that many part-timers be covered by employer-based insurance plans, many companies will take the path of least resistance and push these workers out into government-subsidized programs for the working poor.

“The issue of health coverage for workers in the food retailing industry has not been created by Obamacare—it has been at the very center of [grocery industry] labor relations for years,” he notes. The 2003 Southern California grocery strike—the largest of its kind in U.S. history—had its origins in health care insurance issues. “And look what happened there,” Jacobs says. “It was a huge strike and the workers lost a lot of their health care benefits.”

“At the end of the day, it may be better for everyone concerned” to eliminate employer-based coverage for most of these low-income grocery workers, says Jacobs. “If the cost is so onerous that the employer cannot compete, then subsidized individual insurance seems to be a logical alternative.”

Any resolution of the New England Stop & Shop insurance issue could set a national precedent in the grocery chain sector, adds Jacobs. Stop & Shop’s parent company is the Dutch-based international retailer Ahold, which owns hundreds of other stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Any settlement in New England could create a model for those other areas, he says, and a company-wide Ahold solution will, in turn, have a knock-on effect for other gigantic chains like Safeway, Kroger and Supervalu.

The potential national impact of the outcome of the negotiation has created intense pressure this week as the New England talks between UFCW and Stop & Shop enter a decisive phase.

Charette tells Working In These Times that the five union locals are planning on mass meetings across the region for this coming weekend. If a settlement is in hand, union leaders will ask for a ratification vote. Otherwise, they will ask for a strike authorization vote and prepare for a huge confrontation. The union leader confessed it was impossible to predict the outcome.

This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on March 1, 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.

Fired Hostess Worker Becomes One-Man ‘Truth Squad’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Bruce VailJust 12 short weeks ago, Mike Hummell found himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile union fights of 2012: the nationwide strike against Hostess Brands. As a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Hummell hit the picket lines in early November in support of the union’s desperate showdown with the company famous for making Wonder Bread and Twinkies. But for Hummell the strike would become more than an angry protest against Hostess’ assault on his livelihood. It would be the beginning of a journey through the electronic media in search of fairness for himself and his coworkers.

“It was incredible to see the strike portrayed in the media as the union forcing the company out of business,” says Hummell, a receiving clerk at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kan. With 14 years on the job, Hummell was dismayed that media portrayals of the struggle showed little or no understanding of the workers’ viewpoint. Adding insult to injury, many news outlets blithely repeated Hostess’ assertions that the company would be destroyed by BCTGM’s refusal to make “reasonable” compromises, he says.

The facts, as Hummell knew from his years at the bakery, were quite different. Workers had already made broad concessions to help save the company, and the goal of the strike was to the hold the line against Hostess managers intent on busting the unions and dismembering the company. While some press accounts seemed biased or misinformed, equally troubling was that the main newspaper in the area, Kansas City Star, was ignoring the story. Hummel’s wife sent in a complaint and a reporter soon contacted him.

“I got into an argument with them. I have to admit I was a little surprised when the the story came out and it was pretty accurate. They even quoted me by name,” he recounts.

Hummell then decided to make his own leap into personal journalism. Long a reader of the Daily Kos blog, he composed his first-ever post for the site. On November 18, Hummell—using the screen name Bluebarnstormer—blasted Hostess in a lengthy post titled “Inside the Hostess Bankery.”

“Wow, it just took off,” Hummell says. The post went viral, logging 261,723 page views in the following days. Indeed, it was so popular that Hummell’s work finished in second place in Daily Kos’ 2012 annual calculation of the site’s most popular reader posts. It was instant fame, of sorts. He was contacted by a news reporter for CNNMoney, and his comments received wide distribution. Hummell then received a call from a producer of the CNBC television network, asking that he represent the workers on a cable program with national distribution. He made two appearances on CNBC, during which he ably fielded hostile questions from both hosts and guests.

“The funniest thing about CNBC was the second time I was on, it was like they felt they had to have a whole crew of so-called ‘experts’ to prove I was wrong,” Hummell says. “Well, none of them seemed to know anything about Hostess.” He says he received a lot of encouragement from his co-workers in his efforts to spread accurate information about the strike, as well as from officers of BCTGM Local 218, which represents Hostess workers in the Kansas City area.

His campaign was not successful, however, in deterring Hostess owners from their plan to close the company, dismiss all the workers, and sell off all the assets to the highest bidder. Currently, Hostess is seeking final approvals from a federal bankruptcy court for an auction of the company’s bakeries and other property.

But Hummel is not finished in his quest. He recently completed work on a 27-minute video, which he videotaped (with a help of a close friend) at a union meeting for fired workers. He hopes that a continued campaign to inform the public will aid Hostess workers in what he regards as a gross miscarriage of justice in Hostess’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“It is absolutely a crime what has happened,” Hummell charges. “The owners of Hostess have lied again and again, and there has been no accountability” from Judge Robert Drain, who oversees the court case.

Judge Drain, he says, has been complicit in the abuse of the bankruptcy court process and should be called to account. Hummell hopes that full public exposure of Hostess managers and of Judge Drain can insure that some of the cash generated by the sale of Hostess will flow to the workers.

As for his journey into the world of media, Hummell says he plans to go further. His public stand on behalf of the BCTGM members has led to an invitation to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association, he says. His experience over the last 12 weeks has convinced him that it is possible for rank-and-file workers to make a difference, he tells Working In These Times.

You can contact Mike at bluebarnstormer <at> yahoo <dot> com.

This article was written by Bruce Vail at Working In These Times on February 2, 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.

"Grim"

Friday, February 1st, 2013

jonathan-tasiniIt is the strangest contradiction: things have not been so bad for workers probably since the Great Depression, with wages declining, health care costs going up, pensions becoming a thing of the past. People are really angry and frustrated. Yet, at the same time, unions continue to decline in numbers and power.

It got worse:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation’s overall employment rose by 2.4 million. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the bureau found in its annual report on union membership. That brought unionization to its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin.

And, even worse:

The portion of private sector workers in unions fell to just 6.6 percent last year, from 6.9 percent in 2011, causing some labor specialists to question whether private sector unions were sinking toward irrelevance. Private sector union membership peaked at around 35 percent in the 1950s.

And it will likely get worse, if that’s possible.

Now, I am not one who believes it is over. BUT: there needs to be a serious debate about what needs to be done. I agree with all the outside obstacles: the billionaires who want to kill unions, the right-wing march to eviscerate public sector unions and the growing numbers of big manufacturers who are setting up non-union operations.

But, a more systematic, honest analysis of what is not working internally is warranted.

This post was originally posted on Working Life on January 23, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York. However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.

NLRB's Recent Significant Decisions

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

The NLRB in the past few weeks made public a number of significant decisions, most reached in the final days of the term of Member Brian Hayes, which ended on December 16. The Board continues with three members, Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce and Members Richard F. Griffin, Jr. and Sharon Block.

The decisions touch on a variety of issues including social media postings, charter school jurisdiction, backpay awards, the chargeability of certain union lobbying expenses, and an employer’s responsibility to continue dues collection after the expiration of a contract.

Hispanics United of Buffalo
The Board found that the employer unlawfully fired five employees because of their Facebook posts and comments about a coworker who intended to complain to management about their work performance. In its analysis, the Board majority applied settled Board law to the new world of social media, finding that the Facebook conversation was concerted activity and was protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Member Hayes dissented.

Alan Ritchey, Inc.
In a unanimous decision that resolved the last of the two-member cases returned following the 2010 Supreme Court decision in New Process Steel, the Board found that where there is no collectively-bargained grievance-arbitration system in place, employers generally must give the union notice and an opportunity to bargain before imposing discipline such as a discharge or suspension on employees. Member Hayes was recused.

Latino Express
In a decision that will affect most cases in which backpay is awarded, the Board decided to require respondents to compensate employees for any extra taxes they have to pay as a result of receiving the backpay in a lump sum. The Board will also require an employer ordered to pay back wages to file with the Social Security Administration a report allocating the back wages to the years in which they were or would have been earned. The Board requested briefs in this case in July 2012. Member Hayes did not participate in the case.

Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy
Rejecting the position of a teachers’ union, the Board found that it had jurisdiction over an Illinois non-profit corporation that operates a public charter school in Chicago. The non-profit was not the sort of government entity exempt from the National Labor Relations Act, the Board majority concluded, and there was no reason for the Board to decline jurisdiction. Member Hayes dissented in part.

United Nurses & Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital)
The Board, with Member Hayes dissenting, addressed several issues involving the rights of nonmember dues objectors under the Supreme Court’s Beck decision. On the main issue, the majority held that, like all other union expenses, lobbying expenses are chargeable to objectors, to the extent that they are germane to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. The Board invited further briefing from interested parties on the how it should define and apply the germaneness standard in the context of lobbying activities.

WKYC-TV, Gannet Co.
Applying the general rule against unilateral employer changes in terms and conditions of employment, the Board found that an employer’s obligation to collect union dues under a check-off agreement will continue after the contract expires and before a bargaining impasse occurs or a new contract is reached. Member Hayes dissented.

This post was originally posted on LawMemo on December 21, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Ross Runkel is the President and Editor of Law Memo. Ross Runkel spoke at the Washington State Bar CLE on Alternative Dispute Resolution on Arbitration: 9th Circuit and Supreme Court Update and Commentary, on September 26, 2008. He was also the lead-off speaker at the Texas District & County Attorneys Association Civil Law Seminar on Recent Trends in National Employment Law, May 16, 2007. Finally, Ross Runkel spoke at the State Bar of Texas Labor & Employment Law Section Annual Update & Skills Conference, on October 7, 2006. 

Workplace Advice: My Fair Share

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

DavidMy Fair Share is a cross-post from Working America’s Dear David workplace advice column. David knows you deserve to be treated fairly on the job and he’s available to answer your questions, whether it is co-workers making off-handed comments that you should retire or you feel like your job’s long hours are causing stress.

Question:

What can you do about not being paid a fair wage for the work you do? I make a lot of money for the company I work for feeding a robot up to 4,000 packages per hour. How do I get some of the money I make for the company through high production paid to me?

—Marty, Indiana

Answer:

“We make it, they take it.” If the last 40 years have anything to teach us, it’s that if we leave it up to them, too many bosses don’t feel like they need to share fairly—if they even share at all. Check this out. It used to be that as worker productivity increased, so did a worker’s wages. But sometime in the 1970s that stopped being the case. Today, even as most workers are struggling in a stagnant economy, big banks and corporations are posting record profits. If you’re feeling squeezed, it’s not your fault.

 As long as you’re being paid at least the minimum wage, there’s no legal requirement that a wage be “fair.” So who should get to decide what’s “fair”? You already know what can happen when the boss gets to be the decider—so the key is not to leave it only to your boss! And to act collectively.

It starts by you getting together with at least one other person at your workplace who feels the same way you do. Do this first—there are certain legal protections that kick in for you once this has happened. Meet up someplace outside of work, and compare notes. Who else can you talk to who would stand with you? Make a list, get folks together again and ask others what improvements they’d like to see at their workplace. This has been said before, but these are all important first steps. Together you may decide that you are ready to take something up with your boss right away. Or you could decide that you will be more successful negotiating if you first form a union. This process might take some time, and it’s worth it to move cautiously. Whatever you decide—you are stronger acting as a group than if you act alone. 

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 30, 2012. Reprinted with Permission. 

About the Author: David at Working America focuses on answering submitted questions about workplace fairness and workplace rights around the country. Working America is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and is the fastest-growing organization for working people in the country. At 3 million strong and growing, Working America uses their strength in numbers to educate each other, mobilize and win real victories to improve working people’s lives.

3,000 Workers at 14 Industrial Laundry Sites Get Wage Gains, Keep Free Health Insurance

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Industrial laundry workers, who wash linen for New York’s hotels, hospitals and restaurants, voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new master contract between 14 laundries in the New York Metro area and the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU.

The contract includes significant wage gains for laundry workers, a majority of which are African-American women and Latina immigrants.  New York Metro area laundry workers will also continue to have free employer paid individual medical, dental and vision insurance and a pension. Laundry workers will be part of one multi-employer contract, which sets the standards for a majority of laundries in the New York Metro area.

“This contract makes real improvements for laundry workers and their families and continues to raise standards for the industry,” Wilfredo Larancuent, Regional Manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU, told the bargaining committee comprised of drivers and production workers from area laundries, “You can feel proud of what we have accomplished.”

Elected worker representatives from the laundries bargained the contract with employer representatives for over a month.  A strike vote was held at the laundries, but the contract was settled prior to the strike deadline. Workers and the employers were able to come to an agreement and both were satisfied with the contract.

The Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU represents nearly 70% of all industrial laundry workers in the New York Metro area.  In August, laundry workers at JVK Operations in Long Island voted to join the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU and the Joint Board continues to organize the remaining laundries in the New York Metro area in order to bring all laundry workers up to the standards of their membership.

This article was originally published on SEIU on December 7, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Service Employees International Union is an organization of 2.1 million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.

Striking SoCal Port Clerical Workers Win Outsourcing Controls in Tentative Pact

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Some 450 office clerical workers—members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63—are back on the job this morning in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., after the ILWU and port employers reached a tentative agreement Tuesday night that will prevent the outsourcing of jobs.

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath said the unity and solidarity of the workers, members, their families and thousands of community supporters played a major role in the workers’ win. When the workers struck Nov. 27, ILWU dockworkers and other port workers refused to cross the picket lines.

“This victory was accomplished because of support from the entire ILWU family of 10,000 members in the harbor community.”

The key elements in the tentative agreement are new protections that will help prevent jobs from being outsourced to Texas, Taiwan and beyond. Union spokesman Craig Merrilees said:

“Really, it was getting control on the outsourcing…ensuring that the jobs are here today, tomorrow and for the future.”

The port workers had been without contract for more than two years and employers were threatening to outsource jobs from the nation’s busiest port complex—some 40 percent of all containerized cargo is handled in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

Details of the agreement that still must be ratified have not been released, but news reports say it is a six-year deal that is retroactive to June 30, 2010.

The workers don’t have ordinary clerk and secretarial jobs. The Los Angeles Times describes them as “logistics experts who process a massive flow of information on the content of ships’ cargo containers and their destinations….They are responsible for booking cargo, filing customs documentation and monitoring and tracking cargo movements.”

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on November 6, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was “still blue,” he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse.

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