Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

Selling Out Safety

The March 2005 fire and explosions at BP’s Texas City, Texas, oil refinery killed 15 contractors and injured 180 other workers in ways that will haunt them forever.

Some lost limbs. Others suffered horrific burns, head injuries or wounds that left them infertile. Still others live with the memory of injured co-workers screaming in agony or dying under heaps of rubble.

Since then, dozens of other incidents have killed workers and endangered residents near petrochemical plants. But tragedies like these don’t have to happen.

In January 2017, the EPA issued the Chemical Disaster Rule, which provided sweeping new safeguards for workers, first responders and communities where dangerous plants are located. It would have forced operators to address unsafe practices and keep their equipment up to date.

However, Donald Trump became president before the new requirements took effect. Corporations that own chemical and petrochemical plants complained about the requirements, and shortly after Trump took office, his business-friendly EPA abruptly decided to sit on them.

Now, after delaying implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule for two years, Trump’s EPA just killed most of it.

Corporations don’t want the cost or inconvenience of tougher standards, even when those changes would save lives. They don’t want to be told that they have to consider safer methods of production. They don’t want to share hazard information with the public. They don’t want to answer to anyone.

And instead of standing up for workers, the EPA capitulated to the industry it’s supposed to regulate. It sold out safety. It put corporations over workers.

More ...

Workers will lose more than $700 million dollars annually under proposed DOL rule

By Heidi Shierholz and David Cooper

In October, the Trump administration published a proposed rule regarding tips which, if finalized, will cost workers more than $700 million annually. It is yet another example of the Trump administration using the fine print of a proposal to attempt to push through a change that will transfer large amounts of money from workers to their employers. We also find that as employers ask tipped workers to do more non-tipped work as a result of this rule, employment in non-tipped food service occupations will decline by 5.3% and employment in tipped occupations will increase by 12.2%, resulting in 243,000 jobs shifting from being non-tipped to being tipped. Given that back-of-the-house, non-tipped jobs in restaurants are more likely to be held by people of color while tipped occupations are more likely to be held by white workers, this could reduce job opportunities for people of color.

The background: employers are not allowed to pocket workers’ tips—tips must remain with workers. But employers can legally “capture” some of workers’ tips by paying tipped workers less in base wages than their other workers. For example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but employers can pay tipped workers a “tipped minimum wage” of $2.13 an hour as long as employees’ base wage and the tips they receive over the course of a week are the equivalent of at least $7.25 per hour. All but seven states have a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

In a system like this, the more non-tipped work that is done by tipped workers earning the sub-minimum wage, the more employers benefit. This is best illustrated with a simple example. Say a restaurant has two workers, one doing tipped work and one doing non-tipped work, who both work 40 hours a week. The tipped worker is paid $2.50 an hour in base wages, but gets $10 an hour in tips on average, for a total of $12.50 an hour in total earnings. The non-tipped worker is paid $7.50 an hour. In this scenario, the restaurant pays their workers a total of ($2.50+$7.50)*40 = $400 per week, and the workers take home a total of ($12.50+$7.50)*40 = $800 (with $400 of that coming from tips).

But suppose the restaurant makes both those workers tipped workers, with each doing half tipped work and half non-tipped work. Then the restaurant pays them both $2.50 an hour, and they will each get $5 an hour in tips on average (since now they each spend half their time on non-tipped work) for a total of $7.50 an hour in total earnings. In this scenario, the restaurant pays out a total of ($2.50+$2.50)*40 = $200 per week, and the workers take home a total of ($7.50 + $7.50)*40 = $600. The restaurant’s gain of $200 is the workers’ loss of $200, simply by having tipped workers spend time doing non-tipped work.

More ...

Putting the Brakes on Corporate America’s Inequality Engine

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why has the United States become so much more unequal over the last four decades? Any number of factors have been driving our increased inequality. But no single factor may have been more significant than the behavior of the modern American corporation.

Corporations are contributing to inequality on two fronts. On the one hand, they’re systematically depressing incomes for average Americans, via everything from outsourcing to pension cuts. On the other, they’re just as systematically stuffing the pockets of America’s executive class.

These two vile sets of behaviors are relentlessly reinforcing each other. Outrageously huge rewards give corporate executives an incentive to behave outrageously, to squeeze their workers at every opportunity.

So how can we fight these corporate pay outrages? We change the incentive structure. We start giving Corporate America reason to narrow income divides, not stretch them ever wider. New legislation just introduced in Congress does just that.

The legislation — the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act — raises the corporate tax rate on companies that pay their top executives over 50 times more than what they pay their most typical workers. The wider the pay-gap multiple over 50 times, the higher the tax rate.

Not that long ago, no one could have possibly dreamed that this sort of tax penalty would be so necessary. In mid-20th century America, CEOs at major U.S. firms seldom made much more than 30 or 40 times average worker pay. Today, by contrast, the nation’s top CEOs average nearly 300 times more. In 2018, a new Institute for Policy Studies report details, 50 top execs grabbed over 1,000 times more.

The proposed Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act carries some heavyweight sponsors. In the Senate, Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced the legislation November 13, the same day that veteran lawmaker Barbara Lee (D-California) and outspoken first-termer Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) introduced the bill in the House. And, on the Senate side, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is co-sponsoring the legislation.

Over two dozen national labor, religious, and policy organizations have already endorsed the new Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act. They range from the AFL-CIO and the National Council of Churches to the Coalition on Human Needs and Public Citizen.

More ...

Trade Unions Demand Governments Address Gender-based Violence in the World of Work

Last week marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and trade unions around the world are demanding governments ratify and implement International Labor Organization Convention 190 (C190), on ending violence and harassment in the world of work.

Read the statement from the International Trade Union Confederation in EnglishSpanish or French.

C190 was adopted last June at the International Labor Organization. The AFL-CIO and trade unions around the world campaigned for more than a decade to win this important new global standard, and now are leading the fight to see its framework adopted by governments and employers.

Gender-based violence and harassment is a particular threat to women, LGBTQ workers and other marginalized groups. Homicide is one of the leading causes of death on the job among women in the United States, accounting for almost a quarter of workplace deaths among women, while it accounts for only 8% of workplace deaths among men. It is also a particular threat to workers in low-wage, precarious working arrangements, as poverty and marginalization can prevent workers from escaping or challenging dangerous conditions.

The C190 framework emphasizes that everyone has the fundamental right to be free from violence and harassment at work, and requires governments adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach to end it. C190 requires governments and employers address the root causes of gender-based violence at work, including discrimination and unequal power relationships. Violence is a tool that both reflects and reinforces a gendered power hierarchy at work and in society, and ending violence requires allowing women workers to take collective action to confront this hierarchy directly.

C190 also calls for investigating sectors and occupations that are more likely to experience violence and harassment. In the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation to adopt specific violence protections for nurses, medical assistants, emergency responders and social workers. These workers are predominantly women, and they face extremely high rates of violence on the job. The law would require employers to develop an enforceable, comprehensive violence protection program in U.S. workplaces.

Learn more about the global C190 ratification campaign. Learn more about the law on workplace violence.

***

Reposted from AFL-CIO

Union Matters

Members of Local 7798 achieve major goal with workplace violence policy

From the USW

Workers at Copper Country Mental Health Services in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their contract ratified earlier this year, but the benefit Local 7798 members were most proud of bargaining was language regarding workplace violence.

The contract committed the employer to appoint a committee, including two members of the local, to draft a workplace violence policy. Work quickly began on the policy, and just last week, the committee drafted and released its first clinical guideline focusing on responding to consumer aggression toward staff.

“We are so excited to have this go into effect,” said Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez of Local 7798. “This was a direct result of our last negotiating session.”

The guideline includes the definition of aggression and an outline of procedures, all of which will be reviewed yearly. And though this is just a first step in reducing the incident rates and harm of workplace violence in their workplace, it still is a big one for the local, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a collective bargaining agreement.

More ...

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work