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Illinois Raises Minimum Wage to $15 Hourly By 2025

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Once again, Illinois shows what a difference a positive election outcome makes for workers: The very first law the new pro-worker and Democratic-controlled state government approved raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 hourly by 2025.

The measure, signed by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Feb. 19, raises the minimum from its current $8.25 hourly, enacted in 2010. It also makes Illinois yet another state that’s tired of waiting on the feds to raise the U.S. minimum. That’s been $7.25 hourly for a decade.

And the Illinois minimum wage hike marks yet another reversal from the bitter 4-year anti-worker anti-union reign of Pritzker’s right-wing predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner.

The GOPer spent his years trying to destroy Illinois public worker unions, opposing minimum wage increases – even for underpaid teachers – and trying to impose a big business/radical right agenda on the Land of Lincoln.

In the process, Rauner drove state finances into the ditch, as the Democratic-controlled legislature passed budgets, which he’d veto because they lacked his union-busting schemes.

State agencies and colleges and the people and students they serve, suffered.

Illinois voters kept the Democratic majorities last fall, and Pritzker, with workers enthusiastically backing him, clobbered Rauner. The minimum wage hike is the first result. The State Senate approved it (SB1) 39-18 and the Assembly agreed, 69-47.

“Workers who deserve to live a better life are working but remaining in poverty,” the measure’s chief sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, told the Senate Labor Committee.

Business, resigned to the fact that lawmakers and Pritzker were going to raise the wage, tried to split the state: A high minimum for Chicago, lower for its suburbs, and still lower for downstate. They failed. But small businesses will get a tax credit to help offset the impact of the minimum wage hike on their profits.

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Witnesses Campaign for Equal Pay Bill

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

For the first time in a decade, legislation to put teeth into the nation’s 56-year-old equal pay law appears headed for real debate, votes and passage by the Democratic-run U.S. House.

How far it gets beyond that is up to forces beyond the control of its congressional backers. Foes include congressional Republicans – who run the White House and the U.S. Senate – and, as might be expected, the corporate class, led by the Chamber of Commerce.

That prospect didn’t faze the three lawmakers and representatives of women’s groups who campaigned for the measure, the Paycheck Fairness Act, at a congressional hearing.

By giving workers more power to discuss wages, banning company retaliation, really slamming law-breakers legally and disclosing pay data in broad categories – thus shaming discriminatory employers while putting a powerful tool in workers’ hands – the advocates said the measure would help shrink the huge pay gap where working women trail working men.

And it also could be part of a package that could help cut U.S. poverty and income inequality, they testified. Other sections of that package include raising the minimum wage, enacting paid family leave and, as one new female Democrat from Michigan reminded everyone, strengthening worker rights.

Federal data show the median pay for a working woman nationwide is 80 cents for every dollar a working man in the same or similar jobs, with the same qualifications, earns. The ratios are even worse for African-American (61 cents), Latinas (53 cents) and Native American women (58 cents). The median is where half the workers are under that figure and half above.

Though witnesses didn’t say so, union women are the exception to that dismal picture. The median weekly pay for unionized working women is 92 cents per union working man’s dollar. Working union women also out-earn every other group of workers, male and female, except unionized men.

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Anti-Union Raid Hits Portland

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Think right-wing anti-union raids are past? Not so, even in progressive Portland, Ore. The Northwest Labor Press reported vandals trashed the city’s office of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an independent union known for its recent organizing wins in Portland and the Twin Cities among fast-food workers.

Vandals smashed a window that sported a Black Lives Matter sign and spray-painted slogans on the IWW office walls, including “Smash Communism.” The vandalism during the night of Jan. 23-24 came four days after local “Patriot Prayer’ members tried to break up a meeting at a nearby restaurant with anti-Muslim taunts and confrontations with pedestrians.

Politically and financially, the vandalism backfired. IWW member Effie Baum told the paper neighbors and backers dropped by with food, flowers and donations. Painters and Glazers unionists repaired the damage. The Northwest Oregon Labor Council condemned the raid as “an attack on all unions.” A go-fund-me page to pay for the repairs raised $5,666, far above its $2,000 target. The extra cash will pay for enhanced security and a wheelchair ramp.

Top Public Sector Union Leaders See Gains, New Initiatives, After Janus

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling against public sector unions, has, in union membership terms, turned out to be a dud so far. At least that’s what top leaders of the nation’s four biggest public-sector unions say.

And their added big message is that “unions are vehicles for workers’ voices, not the voices themselves” as Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten put it.

Presidents Weingarten, Lee Saunders of AFSCME and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, and Vice President Becky Pringle of the National Education Association discussed how to bring that message to workers in an impromptu press conference with the small group of reporters covering the Future of Unions conference, earlier in February.

Overhanging the sessions was that while more than one-third of public-sector workers – Teachers, Fire Fighters, nurses, EMTs and others – are unionized, only 10.5 percent of all workers are union members. That includes just 6.4 percent of private sector workers.

So the radical right, Republicans and big business foes of workers and unions, having trashed private sector unions, trained their sights on the public sector. Their aim, as one top right-wing honcho admitted in 2017, was to kill unions by taking their money away. “Defund the left,” he called it.

Their vehicle was the Janus vs AFSCME District Council 31 lawsuit, a trumped-up case the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year. And the tribunal’s 5-man Republican-named majority, voting on ideological lines, took their bait.

Reversing a 1975 precedent, the justices ruled every state and local public-sector worker in the U.S. – all 6.2 million of them – would be a potential “free rider,” able to use unions’ services without paying one red cent for them, contract or no contract.

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Future of Unions Conference Speakers Push Sectoral Bargaining

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

What was supposed to be an intellectual weekend conference on the future of the U.S. union movement turned into a conference on the future of collective bargaining, and specifically promotion of sectoral bargaining, instead.

The Feb. 8-9 confab in D.C., hosted by the Albert Shanker Institute – a think-tank the Teachers (AFT) set up – and the Century Foundation saw a wide range of speakers, both from the U.S. and abroad try to tackle the issue of how U.S. unions could reverse their long downward slide in the private sector.

That slide has taken U.S. private-sector union density to 6.4 percent, according to the latest federal figures – and set unions’ right-wing foes, their corporate class cronies and their political puppets free to go after public-sector unions now.

So far, despite some small losses, they haven’t succeeded, leaders of the four top public sector unions – AFT President Randi Weingarten, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry and National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle – said in a separate panel.

That’s despite a hostile U.S. Supreme Court which, in last year’s Janus decision by the court’s five-man GOP-named majority, made every public worker in the United States eventually a potential “free rider,” eligible to use union services and gains without paying one red cent for them.

That left speakers wrestling with the question of revitalizing and expanding private-sector union density. While the conference was not designed to come to a conclusion, but instead to float and discuss ideas, said Leo Casey of the Shanker Institute, sectoral bargaining came to the fore.

But it isn’t the only way private-sector unions could expand:

• Many speakers, including Weingarten, Communications Workers President Chris Shelton and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., argued that “bargaining for the community” – by putting community causes at the head of the workers’ demands – leads to more worker power.

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GOP-Majority Labor Board Books Independent Contractor Dodge

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Trump-named GOP National Labor Relations Board majority has given a boost to employers’ “independent contractor” dodge – and that’s bad news for millions of workers, union and non-union.

By a 3-1 party-line vote in a case involving 89 Dallas-Fort Worth Airport SuperShuttle drivers who wanted to unionize with Amalgamated Transit Local 1338, board Republicans upheld and expanded employers’ rights to misclassify workers as independent contractors.

The board’s Jan. 25 decision reversed a 2015 Obama-era NLRB decision curbing the abuses. Independent contractors have no worker rights, including no right to organize, under U.S. labor law.

Their employers also escape paying the company’s share of Social Security and Medicare withholding taxes, workers comp and unemployment insurance, with the workers having to pay those sums plus their own shares of those taxes.

That gives venal, vicious and cost-cutting employers, seeking to undercut their competitors – including their union competitors -- an edge, too. By forcing workers to be “independent contractors,” they can drive down their labor costs.

That especially hurts minorities, the poor and women, the National Employment Law Project says.

“Contracted work is an often-overlooked driver of eroding labor standards, rising income and wealth inequality, persistent structural racism and occupational segregation, and the shifting of power away from workers and toward corporations,” it explains.

“Many industries in which people of color are overrepresented — sectors like janitorial, landscaping, security guards, home care, and others — are characterized by the widespread use of independent contractors. These contracted jobs offer no social insurance protections or even a minimum wage.”

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out in papers and reports over the last several years that the “independent contractor” dodge drives down pay and benefits for other workers, even “employees” who can unionize under labor law. That’s because bosses can force those workers to take lower pay and fewer benefits, or else become independent contractors, too.

None of this was in the NLRB’s GOP majority ruling, written by new board chairman John Ring. His decision instead followed a goal, set by the NLRB’s new General Counsel – its top enforcement officer – to reverse every pro-worker ruling of the Obama-era NLRB.

“The shared ride industry is an extension of the taxicab industry and this factor should be afforded significant weight,” Ring wrote. “SuperShuttle franchisees are free from control by SuperShuttle in most significant respects in day-to-day performance of their work.”

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Democrats Try to Stop Eviction of Unpaid Federal Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

With landlords preparing eviction notices for unpaid federal workers – and their families – from rental housing and banks scheming to repossess their cars for unpaid loans, Senate Democrats are trying to stop the pain.

The legislation by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, drew support from 24 other Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Two top union leaders who represent federal workers, Tony Reardon of the Treasury Employees (NTEU) and Paul Shearon of the Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE), strongly support it.

The legislation may not come up for a vote in January, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., allowed two votes on measures to end GOP President Donald Trump’s month-long lockout/shutdown of federal workers and their agencies.

Egged on by right-wing radio talk show hosts, House Republicans and his own staff, Trump shut several Cabinet departments and related agencies at midnight Dec. 21 after agreeing to, and then welshing on, a measure to keep them open through the rest of this fiscal year.

Instead, Trump demanded lawmakers give him $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border before he’d reopen the government.

Trump sent some 350,000 workers home without pay and forced 450,000 others, including federal fire fighters, airport screeners and IRS workers, to toil without pay since then.

It’s those workers, minus two paychecks now, who are facing eviction, auto repossession, ruined credit and other problems because they have no money to pay bills. These are the workers who Schatz, Schumer and the other Democrats are trying to help.

"Amidst another push to open the government, I am fighting with my colleagues for necessary financial protections for impacted federal workers during this shutdown and for workers of any future shutdown, because no federal public servant should have their financial well-being held hostage by a president unwilling to simply open the government in the middle of a debate," Schumer said. 

"While the president and Senate Republicans struggle to get their act together, real people are suffering,” said Schatz. “Right now, thousands of federal workers and their families are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. It’s absolutely unacceptable. Our bill will protect federal workers and make sure they aren’t harmed because of a political stunt.”


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Union Membership Declined Slightly in 2018

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Union membership declined slightly from 2017 to 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Using calculations from the Current Population Survey – a scientifically selected rolling sample of 60,000 households – BLS calculated there were 14.744 million union members last year, down 73,000 from the year before. Union density in 2018 was 10.5 percent.

Anticipating the numbers, the AFL-CIO vigorously countered by citing union victories last year and this: The 30,000 teachers forced to strike in Los Angeles this week.

“Here’s what the numbers alone won’t tell you: 2018 was one of the most substantial years for collective action in American history,” federation spokesman Josh Goldstein said.

Besides the L.A. teachers, he cited Unite Here workers “taking on Marriott” – and winning – over the issue of low-paying jobs and Google workers walking out worldwide over issues of sexual harassment and a voice on the job. The Google workers are not unionized.

And while Goldstein didn’t say so, BLS added another union edge: Pay. And pay equity. The median union worker earned $1,051 weekly last year, compared to $860 for the median non-unionist. The median is the point where half of workers are above and half below.

Median weekly earnings for union men were $1,123, $175 ahead of non-union men ($948). Median weekly earnings for union women were $968, 86 percent of the earnings of union men.

Median weekly earnings for union women last year were $20 more than those of non-union men, and $234 more than the median for non-union women. Non-union women earned 80.5 percent of what non-union men did.

Goldstein also cited unions’ record – and successful – political activism, including election of a pro-worker majority in the U.S. House and of 950 unionists who won political office in November, from Gov. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., an Education Minnesota member on down to a Teamster win in a rural county commissioner’s seat in rural North Carolina.

All of that contrasts with BLS’ numbers.

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Democrats Unveil $15-an-hour Minimum Wage Bill

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Backed by dozens of low-wage workers clad in white “$15 and a union” sweatshirts, a united phalanx of top congressional Democrats, plus Bernie Sanders, formally unveiled legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.

With support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and more than 180 House Democrats – including active union members Mark Pocan of Wisconsin (Painters) and David Norcross of New Jersey (IBEW), who both spoke – the bill is expected to sail through the new Democratic-run House. The only question there is when.

After that is another matter.

“We are coming together to recognize fundamental concerns of American working families,” Pelosi told a Jan. 16 rally and press conference. “The minimum wage is no longer a living wage” as it was 50 years ago, added Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Raising the minimum wage would benefit an estimated 40 million workers directly and millions more indirectly, the lawmakers said. It was one of the key planks touted by many of the progressive Democrats elected in the November sweep which returned the House to Democratic control.

Most minimum wage hike beneficiaries are working women, minorities or both and – contrary to one Republican and right-wing lie – fewer than 10 percent are teenagers. And 85 percent of child care workers earn less than $15 hourly, Sanders said.

“When we put money in the pockets of American workers, they spend it, benefiting Main Street, too,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., new chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, which will work on the legislation.

Cynthia Lowe, a working single mom at a KFC fast-food eatery in Memphis, spoke for those 40 million workers who would benefit.

“Eight years ago, my first job in fast food paid $6.55 an hour. Now it’s $7.50. Many times, I sit in the store after working hours because I have no choice” but to wait for her kids’ school to end and can’t afford child care. She also struggles to pay for other basic needs.

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Nuke Plant Shutdown is Model for Move to Renewable Energy

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

California’s planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025 can provide a model for creating clean energy jobs while helping fossil fuel plant workers through the transition, the business manager of the union that represents the plant workers says.

Tom Dalzell, business manager for Electrical Workers Local 1245, explained what happened in a blog posted by the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center on Nov. 30. The blog was one of several follow-ups to an earlier conference on what labor’s role in battling climate change should be, particularly in the Golden State.

Union leaders are divided on what labor’s role should be in the climate change debate. Unions that represent fossil fuel workers, notably the United Mine Workers and some building trades unions, argue – correctly -- that conversion away from those fuels has cost their members jobs and left them with no alternatives.

Other unions, led by the BlueGreen Alliance, the Steelworkers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United and others, contend the labor movement must campaign for measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.

They also contend that plant closures as a result of conversion from fossil fuels must be accompanied by retraining for the workers, especially for unionized high-paying jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar and wind power structures and erecting other facilities to store such new energy.

Dalzell says what happened at Diablo Canyon can provide a model for that course. “A fundamental premise should be that workers must not be made to pay the price,” he said.

Negotiations on how to deal with the coming closure “were possible because everyone involved, even those who had been enemies for over three decades, put down their swords long enough to chart a path worth taking together,” Dalzell said. His local represents 500 high-skilled high-tech workers. 

A prior, abrupt nuke plant closure – throwing hundreds out of jobs – made clear that advance planning for Diablo Canyon’s shutdown was absolutely necessary. So both sides got to work.

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Union Matters

A Just, Inclusive and Sustainable Economy

From the AFL-CIO

This week, labor leaders from across the country descended on New Orleans to map out the path ahead for our movement. From trade and public education to equal pay and paid leave to back pay for federal contract workers and bargaining power for all, the AFL-CIO Executive Council tackled the issues that will define working people’s fight for economic justice in 2019 and beyond.

Sending waves through Washington yesterday, the Executive Council’s most notable decision was its announcement that, “if the administration insists on a premature vote on the new NAFTA in its current form, we will have no choice but to oppose it.” Here are a few highlights from the statement:

  • Trade policy must be judged by whether it leads to a just, inclusive and sustainable economy....By that measure, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has driven the outsourcing of so many good jobs, has been a catastrophic failure. More than 850,000 U.S. jobs were shipped overseas under NAFTA between 1993 and 2013.
  • By design, NAFTA distorted power relationships in favor of global employers over workers, weakened worker bargaining power and encouraged the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy.
  • After a quarter-century of this race to the bottom, workers in all three NAFTA countries find it more difficult to form unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements.
  • The NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement.
  • The current effort by the business community to pass the new NAFTA is premature, and if it continues, we will be forced to mobilize to defeat it, just as we mobilized to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


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New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All

New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All