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9to5: Celebrating Labor Day by Working for Change

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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For far too many women, work isn’t working. That’s why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is so critical.

Women still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men – and for African American women and Latinas the gap is even wider. Far too many working women labor in jobs that do not provide a family-supporting income. Far too many women, particularly low-wage women, lack paid sick days to care for themselves during occasional illness. And far too many lack even a single paid sick day to care for a sick child.

As we mark Labor Day 2009 – a day to pay tribute to the historic achievements and contributions of workers — it’s time to call attention to this fact:  Union membership is one sure way to address gender-based workplace disparities and unionization can provide important economic security for low-wage women and their families.

According to “Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers,” a December 2008 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, union members not only earned more than their non-union counterparts, they were also 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 23 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan.

“For women, joining a union makes as much sense as going to college,” said John Schmitt, author of the upward mobility study. “All else equal, joining a union raises a woman’s wage as much as a full-year of college, and being a member of a union raises the chances a woman has health insurance by more than earning a four-year college degree.”

As the entire country debates health reform, it’s important to note that health insurance is just one of the positive workplace standards unions can provide for working women. Union representation is also one of the strongest predictors of family-flexible workplace policies.

More than 60 million American workers lack a single paid sick day to care for themselves when ill, and nearly 100 million workers lack paid sick time to care for an ill child. Especially in this economy, no one should lose a job just because they or a loved one gets sick. Companies with 30 percent or more unionized workers have been documented to be more likely than non-union companies to provide paid time off to care for sick children (65 percent compared to 46 percent).

So, how can women work for workplace change?

Speak out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would put the choice of how to form a union back into the hands of workers. A free choice means that workers would have the option of unionization if a majority of them sign up. EFCA will protect women and men who join together to negotiate with their employers for health care, fair wages, retirement security and paid sick days.

It’s critical that we pass this federal legislation. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about EFCA. And, most important, let your members of Congress know that you support it and expect their support as well.

On this Labor Day, it’s time to ensure that the workplace work for us all.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, an inclusive multi-racial membership organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy.

Under Linda’s leadership, 9to5 has won important victories on minimum wage, good jobs, work-family, anti-discrimination, pay equity, welfare, child care and other issues affecting low-income women. Linda has spent more than 30 years as a labor and community organizer. She also serves as an adjunct professor specializing in sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

Linda is a member of the Governor’s Colorado Pay Equity Commission, serves in the leadership of several state and national policy coalitions, and has received several awards for her work with and on behalf of low-income women, including the “Be Bold” Award presented by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. She was recently appointed to the National Board of Directors of the American Forum, a progressive media organization.


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Obama’s Not Alone: Inviting Cities to the Labor Day Barbecue

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(Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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We always knew it would take a fight to enact the kinds of sweeping reforms we need to fix the economy so that it really works for working Americans. The Employee Free Choice Act was never set to sail through Congress without opposition from the nation’s most anti-union employers. No one expects that it will be much easier to repair our broken immigration laws, overhaul flawed trade policy, improve retirement security or ensure that parents can finally afford time off work to welcome a newborn. But the sheer nastiness of the health care reform fight begs the question: if even modest reforms are this difficult for a popular Democratic President with large majorities in both chambers of Congress, how will we ever achieve the economic restructuring the nation needs?

One way to improve the odds that working people will have more to celebrate on Labor Days to come is to ensure that our cities get a special invitation to the national policy conversation. Picture it as a giant nationwide barbecue: gathered around the grill, cities can share local policy victories that have measurably improved the lives of their own residents – and can provide a successful model for other cities and for national action. Raising the profile of proven local policies may make the reforms proposed in Washington feel a lot less lonely.

San Francisco can share its own universal health care model, which currently provides 45,000 uninsured city residents with access to affordable primary and preventive care, prescriptions and lab tests through city clinics and participating private hospitals. The track record of Healthy San Francisco, as the program is known, should be informing the national health care debate to a far greater extent than it is.

While they’re talking health, the City by the Bay can also recount its experience guaranteeing everyone employed in the city the opportunity to earn paid sick days – a policy that is projected to reduce costs and improve public health and has not increased unemployment. Washington DC and Milwaukee have already passed weaker versions of this policy. Now New York City is looking to emulate San Francisco’s success. Examples like these can boost national legislation like the Healthy Families Act which would let working people nationwide stop having to make the untenable choice between their health and a needed paycheck.

Minneapolis could also pipe up. The City of Lakes insists that when they provide subsidies for economic development, companies that get public money need to create living wage jobs. The successful policy is a vivid example to cities across the country which regularly provide lucrative private tax breaks only to lure poverty-level jobs.

Then there’s New York, where grassroots organizations citywide have teamed up with the State Department of Labor to educate employees and employers about workplace laws and identify cases where employers are illegally cheating their workers out of pay. The program, known as New York Wage Watch has attracted national controversy because it enlists unions in the effort to detect illegal activity by employers. The debate provides a perfect opportunity to consider which poses a greater threat to the country: the pervasiveness of employers stealing employee wages or the potential for groups – which have no special power to look at a company’s books or confidential documents – to intrude on private business as they uncover illegal activity? Lawbreakers may be right to fear that this local education and monitoring effort could go national.

Finally, Los Angeles should join the party. Home to the nation’s busiest seaport, Los Angeles realized it would never significantly improve air quality as long as the dirty diesel trucks servicing the port were owned by overstretched independent operators without the resources to buy or maintain cleaner vehicles. The city took bold action to both clean up the trucks and transform the drivers from exploited independent contractors into employees with a chance of improving their own working conditions. Not surprisingly, national business interests don’t like the idea of port truckers unionizing. But other port cities are considering the policy, with the potential to improve the quality of both air and jobs.

Federal policy battles cannot be won in a vacuum. Cities and towns across the country demonstrate the success of policies that improve the lives of working people. This is one Labor Day barbecue we should all attend.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This blog was originally written for DMI Blog for Labor Day 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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Employee Free Choice supporters blast Rite Aid with new report on company’s union busting at West Coast warehouse

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Supporters urging passage of the Employee Free Choice Act took to the streets on Monday, August 10 to back warehouse workers at Rite Aid’s massive distribution center in Lancaster, California. They released a new Jobs with Justice report about how management there has aggressively interfered in workers’ freedom to form a union.

The 12-page report: “Rite Aid, Oliver J. Bell & Associates, and the Case for the Employee Free Choice Act” documents how management employed union busters and violated labor laws. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board was prepared to charge Rite Aid with 49 unfair labor practice charges before the cases were settled out of court.

“Union avoidance consultants, such as those engaged by Rite Aid, have contributed significantly to the subversion of the National Labor Relations Act,” said John Logan from the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment at the University of California at Berkeley whose research has focused on workers’ rights. “Using every weapon at their disposal, they encourage employers to fight to the death efforts by employees to form unions.”

The actions were led by local Jobs with Justice coalitions in Boston, Bangor, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Montpelier, Portland, OR and Richmond, VA. AFL-CIO organizer Rand Wilson and two community activists infiltrated a major pharmaceutical industry conference at the Boston Convention Center where a Rite Aid manager was speaking. As soon as he was done, they stood up and blasted Rite Aid’s union busting while distributing copies of the report to the pharmacy convention delegates. The report was also released in six other cities. At some locations, other Rite Aid workers’ unions — 1199 SEIU, UFCW and the Teamsters — joined the support actions.

Despite the company’s attacks, a majority the of the workers voted to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 26 in March 2008. But more than a year later, Rite Aid management is still refusing to negotiate a first contract that would improve wages and working conditions for employees.

“Rite Aid’s intense and longstanding interference in the workers efforts to form a union — in which professional union busters have played a major role — and its failure to bargain in good faith with employees are seen as prime examples of why efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act are so important,” said Veronica Turner, Vice President for Health Systems at 1199 SEIU in Boston.

“If Employee Free Choice were the law of the land, the workers at the Rite Aid distribution center would have settled their contract by now. Access to mediation and arbitration on first contracts would prevent companies like Rite Aid from dragging their feet in negotiations to frustrate workers and defeat efforts to improve working conditions,” said Mark Govoni, Vice President of UFCW Local 1445 in Boston.

After the press conference, activists announced they would leaflet five Rite Aid stores in the Boston metropolitan area to inform customers about the company’s aggressive interference in workers’ rights and the need for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act to help prevent union busting.

About the Author Rand Wilson: was a Teamster communications staffer who helped coordinate the 1996-97 contract campaign and strike at UPS. He can be reached at [email protected] 

This article originally appeared on Working Life on August 11, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.


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Deal or No Deal on Union Contracts

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People want to join unions because it enables them to negotiate for better wages, better working conditions, and, ultimately, a better standard of living.

As I’ve argued in the past, the U.S. needs to reform the arduous course of forming unions in order to rebuild the American middle class. But we also need to focus on the process of negotiating itself. Recent research by Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner at Cornell University finds that employers frequently continue the campaign of delays and intimidation that lead up to union elections during the negotiation of the union’s first contract. As a result of employers’ often illegal refusal to bargain in good faith, more than half of workplaces still lack a collective bargaining agreement a full year after a union is elected. In 37% of workplaces, there is still no contract two years after the union election. For one in four workplaces, there is still no contract more than three years out. If unions are effectively blocked from achieving anything on their members’ behalf, there is little point in forming a union in the first place.

This discouraging record of contract negotiation explains why the Employee Free Choice Act not only makes it easier to organize a union, but includes measures to ensure that employees and management agree on a first contract swiftly. Under EFCA, if negotiations on a first contract drag on for 90 days without being resolved, either the union or management can refer their dispute to a federal mediator. If the mediator is unable to reach a deal within an additional 30 days, the dispute will go to binding arbitration with the arbitration agreement binding for two years.

While the Drum Major Institute has been strongly critical of binding arbitration in cases where individual employees or consumers face larger and better equipped corporate opponents on what amounts to an uneven playing field, the process is more likely to produce a fair result when unions and companies meet each other as equals over the bargaining table. Indeed, a recent Economic Policy Institute summary of how first contract arbitration works in Canada observed that “with the guarantee of a contract at the end of the process, both sides would focus on actually negotiating instead of stalling or filing unfair labor practices charges.”

When both working people and their employers genuinely aim to come to an agreement about workplace issues, collective bargaining can be a democratic and rational process. Reforming the rules to make mediation and arbitration an option for first contracts will help to ensure that good faith negotiations carry the day.

Amy Traub: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This article originally appeared on DMI Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.


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The Employee Free Choice Act: From 2003 to Today

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Members of Congress soon will cast votes that show us where they stand on the Employee Free Choice Act. As key senators engage in negotiations over the bill, supporters of workers’ freedom to form unions aren’t backing down on three key principles:

* Workers need to have a real choice to form a union and bargain for a better life, free from intimidation.

* We have to stop the endless delays and make sure workers can get a fair first contract.

* There have to be real penalties for violating the law.

Over the past few months, opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have more than once declared the bill dead, but in fact we’re still working hard to to ensure labor law reform happens this year. We’ve come along way from where we were several years ago.

 

Here’s a timeline from 2003, when the AFL-CIO Executive Council offered a resolution in support of labor law reform, to yesterday’s seating of Sen. Al Franken, whose first move was to co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act.

…legal reform that protects the free and fair choice of employees to form a union without interference from management and enables more workers to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining.

  • Nov. 21, 2003: Rep. George Miller introduces H.R. 3169, the Employee Free Choice Act, in the House. Sen. Edward Kennedy introduces the same bill as S. 1925 in the Senate. Both were denied a committee vote by the Republican majority.
  • Dec. 10, 2003: Tens of thousands of union members, elected officials, religious leaders and community activists across the nation took part in more than 90 events in 72 cities, united by one message: Workers’ rights are human rights. The nationwide mobilization is the first in a series of annual actions in support of the Employee Free Choice Act held on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
  • April 19, 2005: Miller introduces the Employee Free Choice Act as H.R. 1696 in the House and Kennedy introduces it as S. 842 in the Senate. Again, both bills are blocked by the Republican majority and don’t receive a committee vote.
  • Dec. 10, 2005: Thousands of union members rally across the country in support of the workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain to commemorate International Human Rights Day.
  • Nov. 7, 2006: In the 2006 congressional elections, the union movement makes big strides in electing pro-working family, pro-Employee Free Choice Act candidates, with new pro-worker majorities in both the House and Senate.
  • Dec. 8-9, 2006: The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act takes center stage at the AFL-CIO Organizing Summit.
  • Feb 5, 2007: Miller introduces H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, in the House.
  • March 29, 2007: Kennedy introduces S. 1041, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 in the Senate.
  • March 1, 2007: U.S. House passes the Employee Free Choice Act in a 241-185 vote.
  • June 26, 2007: U.S. Senate votes 51-48 for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow it to be considered for a simple majority vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, 60 votes were required for cloture (agreement to vote on a bill), so a Republican minority in the Senate was able to block consideration of the bill.
  • March 4, 2008: The union movement kicks off the Million Member Mobilization campaign to gather support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Nov. 4, 2008: Despite a desperate multi-million dollar corporate campaign against pro-worker candidates, the union movement wages its most successful-ever political mobilization campaign, helping to elect even more working-family friendly lawmakers to the House and Senate and Barack Obama, a Senate co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, to the White House.
  • Feb. 4, 2009: Union members and allies deliver some of the 1.5 million signatures they’ve gathered in support of the Employee Free Choice Act to Capitol Hill—exceeding the goals of the Million Member Mobilization campaign.
  • March 10, 2009: Employee Free Choice Act introduced in the House (as H.R. 1409), with 225 co-sponsors, and as S. 560 in the Senate, with 41 co-sponsors.

In short, we’ve pursued this critical legislative since Bush ran the nation along with a Republican Senate majority in Congress, until today, when our nationwide political mobilization resulted in the election of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and appointment of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, all of whom expressed support for the bill.

As the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff noted at a Netroots Nation event last month, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. But the opposition is well-funded and aggressive, and the broad coalition supporting the Employee Free Choice Act will need to fight harder than ever to make sure we get labor law reform that helps workers:

We started this six years ago, and I thought it was going to be a 20-year fight. We’ve accomplished so much in the face of such attacks, and all the money they’ve been able to spend has not been able to break it.

The campaign is vibrant and active, and all the forces of corporate America can’t stop it—and they’ve tried everything in their playbook.

Seth Michaels: Seth D. Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.

This article was originally posted at the AFL-CIO Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.


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SEIU Demands Corporate Lobbyists Take Down Deceptive Ads on Employee Free Choice Act

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Today the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sent letters to television stations in Nebraska and Arkansas demanding that deceptive ads about the Employee Free Choice Act be taken down immediately. The ads are paid for by the Employee Freedom Action Committee (EFAC), the political action committee of anti-worker front group Center for Union Facts.

Said SEIU Political Director Jon Youngdahl:

“Arkansans and Nebraskans are losing their jobs, their benefits and their retirement security, yet the same greedy CEOs and corporate lobbyists who helped tank the economy aren’t satisfied.

“Now, they want to take away workers’ rights to bargain for better working conditions and higher wages. In order to do so, they’re reduced to creating vicious and false ads that portray union members as mobsters. They need to stop this deceptive ad campaign and remove these lies from the air.”

In a letter sent to television stations in both states today, SEIU debunked the false claims made in EFAC’s ads, writing in part:

The ad falsely claims that organized workers do not have a say in negotiations over their wages and benefits, when nothing could be further from the truth. It is unorganized workers who have no mechanism to negotiate with their employer over their wages and benefits. At the same time, union members typically vote on whether to ratify their contracts.

Moreover, the ad falsely implies that employers are handing out raises to their employees with the union that is standing in the way, when the exact opposite is true. The fact is that union workers have higher wages and better benefits than non-union workers, which is why more than half of all workers–nearly sixty million–would join a union if they could. Indeed, according to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, union workers earn significantly more on average than their non-union counterparts, are nearly 54 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions, and are 28 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance. In 2007, union workers earned 30 percent more on average than non-union workers.

On Thursday, Media Matters also deconstructed the ads, deeming the campaign “inaccurate and offensive.”

EFAC, like its affiliated organization Center for Union Facts, is run by corporate lobbyist Rick Berman. Berman, former labor counsel at the US Chamber of Commerce, is a virulent anti-worker and anti-consumer activist. According to a profile of Berman on NPR:

Berman’s firm also runs the American Beverage Institute, which argues that drunk driving is over-hyped; the Center for Consumer Freedom, which argues that the obesity “epidemic” and mad cow disease, among other things, are over-hyped; and the Employment Policies Institute, which advocates against minimum wage increases.

View the letter below:

Letter to Arkansas TV Stations re: Inaccurate Advertising

Michael Whitney: Michael Whitney is an online organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Michael manages the online campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act as part of SEIU’s Change that Works program. He got his start in online politics on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign as one of the co-founders of Generation Dean, a web-based youth outreach organization. Michael is a contributor to techPresident.com, the Huffington Post, and his overly active Twitter feed.

This article originally appeared on SEIU Blog on July 10, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.


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Victory at Smithfield: An Independance Day Symbol

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One of the ugliest fights for worker justice has taken place in Tar Heel, North Carolina, which is about 80 miles south of Raleigh. For 17 years, thousands of workers, who labor under some pretty brutal conditions in the largest pork processing plant, have sought a modicum of justice and dignity. And they just got it.

After a two-day vote, the workers approved the first-ever union contract at the Smithfield Foods plant. Here are the details via the United Food & Commercial Workers:

The new contract includes:

* Wage increases of $1.50/hour over the next four years. * Continued company-provided affordable family health care coverage. * Improved paid sick leave and vacation benefits. * Retirement security through protection of the existing pension plan. * Continued joint worker/management safety committee, including company funded safety training for workers. * Guaranteed weekly hours that protect full-time, family supporting jobs in the community * A system to resolve workplace issues. * Three working days of paid funeral leave following the death of immediate family members.

“This contract will completely transform our workplace,” said Orlando Williams. “This is the biggest four-year wage increase Smithfield workers have ever had and it will make a real difference for our families and in this community. We could never have gotten that increase without a chance to bargain with the company. We will finally have a sense of security on the job because through our union we can make sure we have a safe place to work, and that everyone’s treated fairly.”

The first thing to note is that the UFCW deserves a lot of credit. It stuck with this organizing campaign over 17 years through, among other things, a racketeering suit Smithfield filed against the union because of a very persistent corporate campaign waged by the union. In two previous union representation elections, the company brutally harassed the workers, and in particular, the union supporters, to the point that the National Labor Relations tossed out the results of the elections. Finally, last December, the union won overwhelmingly in an election that was more fair then anything in the past.

Which brings us to this point: when workers have a chance to vote for a union–free of intimidation and threats–they will do so. And certainly one step in that direction will come with the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The point that I think is valuable to remember is this one:

Workers and union officials say that perhaps the most important change is that workers will be allowed to voice concerns and challenge management decisions through a formal grievance process. In the past, many workers have said they were treated disrespectfully by their supervisors and fired after speaking out or being injured.

“We really did accomplish something with this union,” said Mattie Fulcher, a 10-year employee who helps usher pigs to their deaths. “We might not have gotten the raise that we wanted, but that will come in time. This is our first contract, and it is a start.”

Too often, in the public sphere, and among the talking heads, the focus on union jobs is about wages and benefits. No doubt, that is important. But, what the workers at Smithfield gained was some POWER over how they will be treated.

Independence Day is about a lot of symbols–patriotism, flag-waving and I suppose mostly, now, a long weekend at the beach. But, it is also about gaining power and the triumph over tyranny. It is always ironic and sad to me that, too often, we assert that triumph by showcasing the very instruments of power that we now use to the detriment of other people around the world.

But, I forget that when I sit back and think, for a moment, what these workers went through–the struggle, the fight, the commitment that held them together over so many dark days–this is the America that inspires me. They have triumphed over tyranny, they have gained back the power they deserve to shape their lives. That’s what Independence Day means to me.

Jonathan Tasini: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

This article originally appeared on Working Life on July 3, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.


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Business Professors: Employee Free Choice Act Good for the Economy

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Two top business experts have taken to the pages of Business Week to make the case for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Paul Adler, a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, and Donald Palmer, an associate dean and professor at the University of California-Davis, say corporate hostility to the Employee Free Choice Act and to workers’ freedom to form unions is short-sighted because communities with well-paid workers have economic advantages for business.

Adler and Palmer cite training, job satisfaction and the healthy communities that come from economically secure workers as reasons why businesses benefit when their employees can form unions and bargain.

They write in the op-ed:

When unions raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers, this increases savings and reduces income inequality, which has beneficial effects on a nation’s economic growth and investment, not to mention its health and social cohesion.

Adler and Palmer say the inability of workers to form unions has real consequences, not only for individual workers but also for communities and the entire economy. The failure to allow workers the freedom to bargain has put us in a “low-performing state,” they say:

Once unions are radically weakened, as they have been in the U.S. over the past few decades—and in no small measure as a result of the business community’s hostility—a race to the bottom starts. The whole economy slides to a lower-level equilibrium where workers earn less and have less influence in the workplace, where firms pay less for labor but get less qualified and less committed workers, and, where, as a result, society gets less output from its available resources.

Adler and Palmer say passing the Employee Free Choice Act will “secure a better future”—not only for today’s workforce, but also for tomorrow’s businesses and workers. They authors are among dozens of business and management scholars who share this view.

Read the op-ed here.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s presidential candidate website, Working Families Vote 2008. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Seth spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe—but the battles of U.S. politics are even more entertaining.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on June 26, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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Labor “Solutions”

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“Our clients receive happy, appreciative employees that will thank you for allowing them the opportunity to work for you,” boasted Kansas City staffing company Giant Labor Solutions. Contract for workforce needs with their company and “your recruiting, hiring, and payroll expenses will dramatically drop.”

What a pity trifles like alleged racketeering, forced labor trafficking, wire fraud and money laundering can come between employers and a cheap, compliant workforce.

As Thomas Frank describes the federal charges against Giant Labor in a recent Wall Street Journal column:

“The Kansas City ring recruited hundreds of workers from Jamaica, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic with promises of visas through the federal H-2B seasonal worker program. To get the process started, however, the indictment says that workers had to pay the accused racketeers hefty fees.

“Once in America, the workers found themselves at the mercy of the traffickers, who allegedly kept “them as modern-day slaves under threat of deportation,” in the words of James Gibbons of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The recruiters apparently took care to keep the workers in debt, charging them fees for uniforms, for transportation, and for rent in overcrowded apartments. Paychecks would frequently show “negative earnings,” in the words of the indictment. And if the workers refused to go along with the scheme, the traffickers held the ultimate trump card, the indictment claims: They “threatened to cancel the immigration status” of the workers, rendering them instantly illegal.”

The situation vividly illustrates the perils of guest worker programs. But it’s not only the trafficked immigrants who lost out at Giant Labor.

The exploited laborers primarily worked on hotel housekeeping staffs, cleaning rooms. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they shared the occupation with more than 400,000 U.S. workers in 2008, making a national median wage of $9.13 an hour. It’s not hard to imagine that hotel owners might not ask too many troublesome questions when a company like Giant Labor stepped in with a deal to slash their labor costs. But neither is it hard to conceive the impact of those lower wages and miserable working conditions on other hotel employees trying to get by on what is already a poverty wage for families.

But if we can drag hotel workers down, we can also raise them up. In the New York City metro area, for example, housekeepers average $15.30 an hour and many get full family health benefits. The reason, of course, is the high unionization rate in the area’s hotel industry, which pushes even non-union hotels to offer competitive pay and benefits to prevent their most efficient employees from leaving – or worse yet, organizing a union of their own.

The nation faces a stark choice when it comes to hotel work, or any other employment. We can pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and watch a wave of union organizing lift workers throughout the country. Or we can expand guest worker programs and stick with a status quo where Americans compete for work with millions of undocumented workers with no effective rights on the job. You can bet hotel employees in Kansas City will feel the difference.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This article originally appeared in DMI Blog on June 23, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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Union Busting Ended My Love Affair with a Beer

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Over many years, I have developed an intimate relationship with the sweet, lager taste of Yuengling Black & Tan. After moving to the cutthroat world of Washington, D.C. politics, I found that Yuengling always comforted me with memories of my working class roots and the world of flannel hunting jackets, wedding receptions at union halls, 4th of July barbecues, and tailgate parties that represented my native Western Pennsylvania. I took pride in introducing my friends to this beauty of a beer—cheap, delicious, and made by union workers back home in Pennsylvania. Women had come and gone, dogs had died, but Yuengling had always been there for me – until now.

This past weekend when I discovered that Yuengling had illegally busted their union, I was emotionally devastated. I had just bought a case of Yuengling earlier that same day and had it sitting at home in the refrigerator waiting for me.  What would I do? I was broke and couldn’t possibly afford to buy another case of beer, but at the same time I couldn’t possibly  enjoy drinking a Yuengling knowing what they had done to their workers. So instead, I found myself  at home, watching a baseball game on a Saturday night, and enjoying a nice, cold glass of milk as I struggled to deal with how Yuengling had betrayed not only its workers, but me.

Quickly I found my outrage shifting from beyond Yuengling to the lack of U.S. labor law protecting workers from such abusive, unfair practices. It turns out that the company had petitioned for a decertification election to kick the union out of the brewery when the contract of the union expired. Dick Yuengling, the owner of Yuengling Brewery, gathered all the workers and told them that “the writing was on the wall”. He said that if they didn’t vote to kick the union out, he would close the plant, and ship the work to a non-union facility in the South. The workers, scared of losing their job in a region with  high unemployment, voted to ditch their union and save their jobs.
While threatening to close a plant if a union wins such an election is highly illegal, the Yuengling Company has been able to get away with due to the weakness of U.S. labor law. According to a study recently released by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, employers threaten to close facilities in 57% of union elections if workers choose a union, despite the fact that this threat is carried out only 2% of the time.  This is because under U.S. labor law the penalty  for threatening to close plants or firing workers during a union election is that the boss merely has to post a piece of paper saying they broke the law.

As one longtime union organizer once put it to me “If the penalty for robbing a bank was you had to post a piece of paper saying you robbed a bank, we’d all be bank robbers!”

Under current U.S. Labor Law, employers can freely violate the law without serious penalty. As a result, workers are fired from their job in 34% of union elections  and companies illegally threaten to close a facility in 57% of all union elections. In this economy, losing one’s job is tantamount not just to losing more than just a job, but also to losing home to foreclosure and more gravely – one’s health insurance. As a result of the ability of bosses to freely intimidate with such Gestapo-style tactics, 58% percent of workers indicate they would like to join a union, but only 8% of private sector employees are members of one out of the fear of what their bosses might do to them for trying to join  a union.

The Employee Free Choice Act would give U.S. labor law real teeth – leveling heavy fines against employees who unlawfully intimidate or threaten workers. The Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers to join unions free of intimidation a process of majority sign where workers merely would have to get 50% of their co-workers to sign a card to be part of a union.

Currently, The biggest obstacle to the passing the Employee Free Choice Act is quite ironically the very Senator who represents the workers at Yuengling Brewing  – “Democrat” Arlen Specter.  Quite ironically, Arlen Specter, who had in previous years voted for the Employee Free Choice Act, has fallen victim to the same type of corporate intimidation and flipped his position to being against the Employee Free Choice Act. Its time that Arlen Specter show solidarity with the 20,000 workers that are fired every year for attempting to join a union. Arlen Specter needs to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would protect the rights of workers to freely join unions that the overwhelming majority of his constituents favor especially the once unionized workers of a once dear friend – Yuengling.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer and worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). He works currently as an editor at AlterNet.

This article originally appeared in AlterNet on June 17, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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