Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘worker rights’

We Rise: Building Immigrant Working People Power

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Richard TrumkaA year ago the president announced a series of executive actions on immigration. Today is a fitting time to honor those who compelled him to act.

Around the country, courageous working people demanded an end to the deportation regime that was tearing communities, families and workplaces apart. They shut down detention centers, turned around buses, and spoke truth to power?—?all at great personal risk. They banded together to prevent the deportation of community members and loved ones who were in removal proceedings, and they won many cases. These brave actions and the determined clamor for #Not1More deportation led to the announcement of the historic deferred action program that will allow millions of parents to live and work without fear.

Communities around the country also rejected the notion that their local law enforcement officials should serve as agents of the federal immigration enforcement machinery. They had important discussions about due process and constitutional protections. Over time, more than 300 jurisdictions enacted ordinances declaring that they would focus their resources on effective community policing and place reasonable limits on their cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This groundswell thoroughly discredited the Secure Communities program, a federally run program launched in 2008, and resulted in its termination in 2014.

These examples inspire us, and they also show us the playbook for how you make change in the nation’s capital— you force it from the ground up. Today as we confront legal and legislative obstruction and the rebranding of failed enforcement policies, the question we should all be asking is what do we push for next?

For the labor movement, the answer is simple. We know that every worker in our country has rights, and we want each worker to be able to exercise those rights, regardless of immigration status.

While this may sound like a simple idea, we are a long way from that reality now. The sad truth is that employers routinely hire undocumented workers with a wink and a nod and then fire them when they seek to organize a union or complain about unpaid wages or unsafe working conditions. And when new immigrants muster the courage to stand in a picket line, join a boycott, or negotiate for fair compensation, employers are still able to retaliate in ways that can set deportation proceedings in motion.

This is just not right; it’s an #Injury2All and the wages and standards for all working people in our country suffer as a result of these efforts to keep immigrant workers scared and silent. Here in Washington, we have been talking for years to Congress and the administration about the need to fix these problems, but we have yet to see the concrete changes that our nation’s workers so urgently need.

So we see this anniversary as an important opportunity to sound a new call to action. We intend to take our demands for basic worker protections to every community and every immigration office in the country. Our unions and allies will raise workers’ cases from many sectors of our economy and make clear that we cannot reasonably expect to end wage theft and exploitation without protecting those workers with the courage to take a stand.

From Chicago to Los Angeles to Austin and everywhere in between, our movement reaffirms what we have long understood, that an injury to one worker is an injury to all. Our federal agencies have the discretion to provide concrete protections to workers who exercise their most fundamental rights, but it is up to us to make them act.

Polite conversations in Washington aren’t working. These changes will only come if we demand them, from the ground up. Working people are ready for this fight, and it will be coming soon to a community near you.

We will keep pushing forward to demand what is just. Please join us.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on November 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka was elected AFL-CIO president in September 2009. He served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995.

Big Wins For The People Who Clean Our Homes And Care For Our Children

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, domestic workers — those who care for children and clean inside people’s homes — won two surprise victories securing more rights in Connecticut and Oregon.

Oregon has considered a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights for many years, but then last week it gained traction. “At the last minute, this bill suddenly got the attention of a critical mass of legislators,” said Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The law would mean that all nannies, house cleaners, and housekeepers who work in people’s homes would have a right to three days off a year, overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week (or 44 if they live in an employer’s home), meal and rest breaks, 24 consecutive hours of rest each week or eight hours of rest every 24 hours for live-in employees, uninterrupted sleep and the right to cook food for those who live in their employers’ homes, and protections against harassment and discrimination.

Connecticut’s bill is a good deal narrower. It would change the state’s anti-discrimination and harassment statutes so that they include domestic workers, who are currently excluded. It will only apply to employers with three or more workers, however, which will exclude many households that only have one nanny or housekeeper. But as Poo pointed out, the state has “a density of wealthy employers who employ more than one domestic worker in their homes.”

And the changes can still have a big impact. “We believe a very high percentage of workers in Connecticut will benefit from this,” said Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center. Meanwhile, the symbolic significance is important. “It’s removing exclusions that are over 70 years old, it is creating changes in laws, but also showing it’s possible to change culture,” she said.

It’s also the first step in what organizers in the state hope will be a two-part process. Last year, the state convened a task force to study domestic workers’ rights in the state. The task force will release a report on its findings in October. At that point, Tracy, a member of the task force herself, says her group will use the recommendations to push for a full bill of rights that includes anti-relation provisions, parental leave and other benefits, and anti-trafficking measures. “I firmly believe that we’re going to be in excellent shape next year when it comes time to submit a bill and to have support on the bill,” she said.

It’s unclear whether the governors in each state will sign the bills into law, although advocates told ThinkProgress they believe both will. A spokesperson for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said, “The Governor will review the bill once it reaches her desk,” and a spokesperson for Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s (D) office said they are reviewing its bill.

Four states have already passed their own versions of Domestic Workers Bills of Rights: the first was New York, followed by California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

Beyond Connecticut and Oregon, Illinois could be another state to join the mix and pass a bill of rights. “We finally got a breakthrough last week with the House passing the bill, including some bipartisan support,” Poo noted. “We are now kind of all hands on deck trying to move through the Senate.”

Without the extra protections, domestic workers remain vulnerable to being paid poorly and mistreated. In a 2012 survey of more than 2,000 domestic workers across the country, a quarter were paid less than minimum wage and about half made an hourly wage that wasn’t enough to support their families. That left 20 percent to go without food because they couldn’t afford to buy any. Meanwhile, more than a third said they worked long hours without breaks but 85 percent didn’t get any overtime pay. But they have little recourse if they don’t like their working conditions: 91 percent who had problems didn’t complain for fear of risking their jobs, while among those who were actually fired, nearly a quarter was because they spoke up.

Poo’s group also isn’t settling for the basic standards required in the states that have passed bills of rights. They also want to see domestic workers get a living wage and paid time off. “We haven’t been successful in getting those pieces into many of the bills around the country,” she noted. But ever since they passed, her group has been focused on “using the minimum standards as a jumping off point,” she said, to get employers to go beyond the minimum.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Eleanor Roosevelt Fought for Human Rights and Union Rights

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Image: Mike HallToday is International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of the prime movers behind the declaration was Eleanor Roosevelt. As Mary Jo Binker and Brigid O’Farrell write on the History News Network that was just one piece of her long post-White House, progressive—and pro-union—activist life after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1945 death. Something they say was glossed over in the recent Ken Burns series “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”

“This period is a complete mystery to most Americans who usually associate Eleanor with Franklin and assume that her role in American life ended with his death in 1945 or that her postwar life merely echoed his New Deal.”

They write that the later part of Roosevelt’s life was marked by three key concepts, political courage, civic education and citizen engagement. Political courage was highlighted by her stand against McCarthyism, while her civic education activities included a six-day-a-week newspaper column, 27 books and several radio and TV public affairs programs.

Binker and O’Farrell point to Roosevelt’s action on civil rights within a then-divided Democratic Party and helping found Americans for Democratic Action as two components of her civic engagement. They also write:

“Another important aspect of ER’s [Eleanor Roosevelt’s] civic engagement philosophy was her support for American labor. ER did more than foster the labor movement, she actually joined it. In 1937, one year after she started writing My Day, she became a member of what is today The Newspaper Guild, AFL-CIO. Despite allegations that her membership implied communist affiliation, she remained a member for over 25 years. Indeed, her union card was in her wallet when she died. ER also numbered many union leaders among her personal friends. She was particularly close to United Auto Workers Union President Walter Reuther. Reuther and ER worked and relaxed together—staying at each other’s homes and befriending each other’s families.

During the postwar years, ER gradually became a strong supporter of public-sector unions and vigorously led an effort to defeat so called “right-to-work laws” in six states. She was a keynote speaker at the AFL-CIO merger convention in 1955, a merger she had championed for 20 years. When A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, asked her to join the National Farm Labor Advisory Committee in 1959, despite failing health she agreed. She attended meetings, wrote columns and testified before Congress on behalf of migrant farm workers.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO. org on December 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Eleanor-Roosevelt-Fought-for-Human-Rights-and-Union-Rights

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland 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.

FLOC Takes Fight for U.S. Tobacco Workers' Rights to England

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Image: Mike HallFarm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez will be in London, England, on Wednesday to urge British American Tobacco (BAT) to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade the company to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers.

You can add your voice to the chorus of those urging BAT to take responsibility for ensuring the rights of workers in its supply chain. Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to BAT CEO Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.

A 2011 report by Oxfam America and FLOC, A State of Fear: Human Rights Abuses in North Carolina’s Tobacco Industry, showed that many farm workers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below poverty wages.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on August 28, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland 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.

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