Summer grill season is here, think American union-made

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

With the unofficial start of summer right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about firing up the grill and looking forward to our favorite summer foods. This summer, make your grocery shopping mean more than just great food and support good paying American jobs.

As a consumer, you can support the actions of thousands of hard working Americans by buying American-made products and union-made products.  Check out the list below and try to serve some union-made treats this Memorial Day weekend and all summer.

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Text MADE to 235246 for more union-made-in-America product lists.
Our list comes courtesy of Union Plus, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s website Labor 411.

Nearly 100 days into 2014, women finally earn what men earned in 2013

 

FBBy Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. … It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

Today is the day we can start to put these words from President Obama during his State of the Union address into action. In a matter of hours, the U.S. Senate will vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act — a bill that would deter wage discrimination.

Today, 98 days into 2014, is Equal Pay Day. This day symbolizes the extra time needed for women to earn the same salary as their male counterparts in 2013.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would deter wage discrimination by updating the nearly 50-year-old Equal Pay Act, in part by barring retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to coworkers. It’s ridiculous, but right now, no federal law broadly prohibits employers from penalizing and even firing employees just for talking about their salaries.

The wage gap does not only affect women, it affects whole families. At a time when women increasingly are the breadwinners, 71 percent of mothers are part of the labor force, a pay gap unfairly targets children in households with single mothers or where both parents work. The pay gap, when calculated over the course of a year, means women receive on average $10,784 less than males performing similar work. The pay disparity is increased among African American women and Hispanic women, who make $19,575 and $23,873 less respectively than a white non-Hispanic male performing the same job. Using these figures, the Department of Labor estimates that women make on average $380,000 less over the course of their careers. That is a huge sum of money when trying to put a child through college, buying healthy groceries for the dinner table, or paying the rent.

Despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009, more work needs to be done to ensure women have the resources and tools they need to confront discrimination and challenge unfair practices in the courts. Current law forces women to jump through too many hoops in order to make claims of gender discrimination.

For Lilly Ledbetter, she was told on her first day of work at Goodyear never to discuss her salary with anyone. It wasn’t until she found an anonymous note in her locker years later that Lilly realized she was being paid as much as 40 percent less than her male colleagues in the same position. This is exactly why these pay-secrecy policies that punish employees and hide discrimination must go!

It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

 

Amidst a flurry of economic theories about the minimum wage, personal struggles tell the story

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

These days, issues of economic security are finally getting their due. Cities and states – and in some cases counties – have decided to strike it out on their own and take matters into their own hands. Thirteen states and a few cities and counties have increased their minimum wages in the past year. Still, the federal government lags behind.

A few weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing on the Senate Fair Minimum Wage Act (S.460 & H.R. 1010) that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, increase the tipped minimum wage from a paltry $2.13 an hour to 70% of the ‘regular’ minimum wage ($7.07), and index both to the rate of inflation – thus stopping this vital wage from being used as a political football.

The hearing witness list included the usual heavyweights: the U.S. Department of Labor‘s (DOL) Secretary Tom Perez and the Director of the Congressional Budget Office Douglas Elmendorf as well as Dr. Heather Boushey, the Executive Director and Chief Economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK, but most importantly, Alicia McCrary – a mother of four trying to make ends meet as a fast food worker on a minimum wage salary.

Alicia McCrary’s voice brought the discussion out of the battling economic studies, partisan posturing, and election year sound bites and back to reality. McCrary simply told her truth and the truth of many families. She spoke of how she moved her four boys out of Chicago after leaving an abusive relationship and shared with the Committee the routine of deciding each month which of her four sons would be the lucky one to get a haircut because she can’t afford for them all to have haircuts in the same month.

Alicia is a good example of what life is like for millions of American families struggling on the minimum wage. Besides demands from work, these working parents face many hurdles at home from finding affordable housing and childcare to feeding their growing children and providing them with health care. With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a single mother that works full time and has one child, lives in poverty at $15,080 (before taxes) a year. This qualifies them for food stamps because without it, they would have little left after paying rent, utilities, transportation, and health care.

The New York Times and the Economic Policy Institute have both released minimum wage calculators/budgets that demonstrate just how far a minimum wage paycheck goes. They highlight the many costs faced by families and just how unlivable the current minimum wage is. Not surprisingly, the numbers show the writing on the wall that families across the country already know. With the recent cuts to the federal food stamp program, low-wage workers are seeing their budgets get stretched even farther. In many metropolitan areas affordable housing is a myth – in a recently published report Out of Reachfrom the National Low Income Housing Coalition – in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent. In Washington D.C., where a District minimum wage earner makes $8.50 an hour – more than the federal minimum wage, it would take that same worker 137 hours per week to afford rent. How many hours would a minimum wage earner need to work in your state to afford rent

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If raised to $10.10 an hour, as those in both houses of Congress and worker advocates are calling for, then 30.3 million workers would get a raise. American families need a break – we need to raise the minimum wage!

Anti-union propaganda leads to defeat for UAW

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Last Friday the workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee voted against joining the UAW. In the weeks and months leading up to this vote, VW had agreed to stay neutral and over half the workers had indicated they were in favor of union membership. But that all changed due to a sustained propaganda campaign lead by Bob Corker the notorious anti-union Senator from Tennessee and the Koch brothers. They, and their right wing allies, believe that if Tennessee  – a right-to-work (for less) state – opens the door to the union, the rest of the South will open up to labor.

Other threats were lobbed – Senator Corker claimed to have been told by an unnamed top company executive that a vote against the union would guarantee that Chattanooga would be chosen as the production site for a new line of SUVs — the union denied it. State officials apparently said if the plant were unionized, the legislature would refuse to appropriate an estimated $700 million in state subsidies necessary to build out an SUV plant.

I don’t understand why these Southern politicians are so threatened by the union. European companies, like VW, which stayed neutral in this discussion, are used to the notion of workers and employers having a place at the table; they support the concept of worker representatives sitting down with management and arriving at mutually beneficial policies, including work rules, wages, safety and health requirements, and vacation benefits. Everyone understands that there’s money to be made  – a lot of it – by both workers and industry. What is so infuriating about so many American businesses, and this campaign against UAW so demonstrates this problem, is that they don’t get that sharing the wealth is GOOD for companies and workers. So many American companies are all about grabbing profits for their higher ups and skimping on wages and benefits whenever possible.  Here was a chance to change that paradigm with the company’s support.

But because this is the US, that wasn’t to be.

The anti UAW propaganda was effective, comparing Tennessee to Detroit and scaring the current VW workforce, which currently makes a good salary, by blaming the UAW for Detroit’s current financial disaster.  Talk about blaming the victim! Workers making decent wages and benefits are to blame for Detroit’s decades of mismanagement and white flight?  It makes no sense but it’s a potent sound bite.

Suppliers threatened to boycott TN if VW unionized. Is giving workers a voice really so scary? Yes, to Southern politicians and business. But Steve Pearlstein in the Washington Post points out that:

[I]n the faster-growing and more prosperous regional economies of the North and West, companies are trying to boost performance by increasing employee engagement and empowerment, not suppressing it. Their business strategies are based not on assuring a steady supply of cheap labor but on increasing the number of highly paid and highly skilled workers. Rather than trying to nullify federal labor law and crush what remains of the much-diminished union movement, these companies, like VW, are looking at new models of workplace cooperation and collaboration.

That’s more likely the wave of the future. And the South, and Senator Corker, the Koch’s, and their ilk – will be left behind If they continue this all out attack against empowering workers and giving them a voice.

50 years after LBJ declared a War on Poverty, progress but more work to do

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

In his 1964 State of the Union address President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty; that was 50 years ago. Today, Martin Luther King Day – a day where we celebrate equality, justice, and progress – we reflect on how the war on poverty has positively impacted struggling families across this great nation. While there is still much work to do to eradicate poverty and ensure every American worker has enough money in her pocket to pay the bills, provide for for her family, and guarantee a stable household, we have made great leaps in the last 50 years. Johnson put in place a series of anti-poverty programs – VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Job Corps, Head Start, Legal Services, and the Community Action Program the likes of which we’ve never seen again. These programs significantly tempered the impact of poverty for millions of Americans. Indeed, in the decade following the 1964 introduction of the war on poverty programs, poverty rates in the U.S. dropped to their lowest level since comprehensive records began in 1958: from 17.3 percent in the year the Economic Opportunity Act was implemented to 11.1 percent in 1973. They have remained between 11 and 15.2 percent ever since.

We can be proud that the legacy of Frances Perkins and the New Deal programs of FDR’s administration – Social Security and Medicare and more recently Medicare Part D which covers the cost of medications – have vastly improved the lives of elderly Americans: the most dramatic decrease in poverty is among Americans over 65, which fell from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 10.1 percent today.

Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota Senator and the man who served as Vice President to LBJ, talks in his spellbinding book “A Public Man” about making a real dent in poverty with these programs. Sadly, the Nixon administration that came into power after LBJ’s reign dismantled many of them. There was a tide that swept over America that offered a few egregious examples that these programs made people “too dependent on government” and unwilling to work.  Yes, there are some lazy people looking for a handout; but there are far more who use these safety net programs to feed their families and get back on their feet so they can work and be productive members of society.

Today the biggest drag on the economy and the notion that “a rising tide lifts all boats” is that the gains in GDP have landed disproportionately in the wallets of the top 1 or 2 percent whereas in the 60s and 70s these gains were shared far more broadly. The number of union jobs that offer good wages and benefits has fallen dramatically. Unionization of the workforce today is at its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent. Sadly, our labor laws do not favor union organizing and there’s been a steady drumbeat by the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, against ceding any power to unions to organize and negotiate on behalf of workers.

So, the War on Poverty, though successful in offering relief programs to the poor, has been undermined by the lack of decent jobs and poor educational opportunities. There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel, however. I’m personally thrilled and delighted to see the wave of state laws increasing minimum wage and the bipartisan support from red and blue states alike in favoring these increases. More than 70 percent of voters in March of this year told Gallup pollsters they would like to see the minimum wage increase. By November that percentage had risen to 76 percent including 58 percent of Republicans supporting an increase.

If the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 is passed into law, 30 million Americans will see an increase in their paycheck. Providing an increased minimum wage may not be a panacea for these struggling Americans, but it will go a long way toward lifting families out of poverty.  It’s good for kids too, because they suffer the most when there’s not enough food in the cupboard. President Johnson had it right – we have to treat the problem of poverty in America like a war –and many strategies need to be deployed to combat the problem. With the recent gains in minimum wage in states around the country and momentum building, we may indeed be opening the next chapter in President Johnson’s War on Poverty.

 

Sitting on mountains of cash, U.S. corporations do too little to reduce income inequality

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By Larry Bostian, Vice President, Development

The question of income and asset inequality has certainly moved center stage. Demands for an increase in the minimum wage are being met by howls of protest, and complaints about skyrocketing executive compensation, alas, are being met with apparent indifference in corporate boardrooms. So the struggle for justice continues, and NCL is right in there, as we have been since 1899.

There’s another player in this drama, though, that doesn’t get the same attention, even though it may have an even greater impact. That’s the fact that U.S. corporations are sitting on top of mountains of cash, but they’re not investing in creating new jobs. With the big increases in stock value — the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 28% in 2013! — a reasonable person might think, why, let’s use some of this new wealth to help out all those unemployed Americans, our fellow citizens!

What are many corporations doing instead? They’re buying back their own stock, which increases the value of the shares still available to be traded. Great, if you’re a shareholder. If you’re one of the millions who lost their jobs in the great recession and whose unemployment benefits have just run out, not so good.

What can we do about it? If you are a shareholder, agitate! Let the company know you want it to invest in jobs, in community development, in public health. Tell the executive leadership to get off the sidelines. If you’re a public employee, contact your retirement system managers and tell them you don’t want them investing in companies that are basically on strike against unemployed and underpaid U.S. workers.

A good source for additional information is the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility.

This holiday season, a present for DC’s workers: Part 2

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

Second in a two-part series examining the new worker protection bills just passed by DC City Council.

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill extends protections to more than 20,000 new workers as well as boosting enforcement to help ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers already covered are actually able to get the leave they earn under the law. The bill as a whole will go into effect once funds for implementation are included in DC’s spring 2014 budget.

Covering Tipped Restaurant Workers

First and foremost, the bill extends paid sick days to tipped restaurant workers, who were carved out by an amendment when the original Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act passed in 2008. The bill guarantees that these workers will receive their normal base wage or the full minimum wage (currently $8.25) for each hour of leave they use, whichever is higher. They will accrue one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year.

No More Year of Waiting for Leave

Current law allows employers to wait a whole year before letting their employees accrue even a single sick day. The bill would guarantee that workers in all industries can start earning sick days from their first day on the job and could start using them after 90 days and would close a loophole where workers could be fired and then rehired in order to cancel their accrued leave. Especially in high turnover industries like child-care, cleaning, security, construction, and restaurants, these changes are huge victories.

Real Enforcement Mechanisms

The bill includes some of the best enforcement mechanisms in the country for any paid leave bill. Employees who are denied paid sick days will get to choose between filing an administrative claim with the DC Office of Wage-Hour or suing in court. Either way, in addition to any lost pay for the days they took off, they would be owed $500 in damages for each day they were forced to work instead of taking leave they had earned, interest for pay owed, reinstatement if they were fired or demoted for taking leave, and attorneys fees and court costs to help enable them to bring a claim.

Workers will have three years to file a claim and longer if their employer failed to post the required notice of paid sick leave rights. Businesses will be required to keep records of hours worked and leave accrued for at least that long and, if they fail to keep required records, employees’ testimony about the failure to be paid leave will be presumed true. The District government will also be able to assess enforcement costs and $1000 or higher civil penalties for violations as well as suspend business licenses until the violations are cured.

To encourage employees to come forward and speak out about violations, the bill includes strong retaliation protections not only when workers file official complaints, but also when they advocate for their rights directly to their supervisor, share information during an investigation, or share information about the right to sick leave with their co-workers.

Public Education

Finally, the bill provides for a public education campaign to ensure workers and employers know about the new law and how to comply with it.