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OUR LATEST POSTS

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Western NY ALF_March 22 copyPlease join us for an informational training on the Freidrichs V CTA case currently in front of the Supreme Court. We will exam what the possible ramifications could mean for labor and how we can work together to overcome any possible outcomes.

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In Washington state this spring, thousands of teachers walked off their jobs to protest chronic underfunding of public education. In Wisconsin in 2011, teachers were leaders in the historic occupation of the state capitol in Madison, as they protested their governor’s push to outlaw collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Given these actions and the long history of teachers standing up not only for themselves, but for their students and public schools, it is no surprise that their unions have a target on their back. It is put there by a cabal of right-wing organizations and big business-backed foundations, including the Christian Educators Association International and Center for Individual Rights. The goal? Demolish teacher unions as a step toward smashing all unions.

The current vehicle is a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, named after non-union teacher plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs, seeks to overturn the “agency shop.” Under this system, once a majority of workers have voted for union representation, the union can collect dues from all employees covered by their contract, whether or not they join the union. Since the union is obliged to represent all the workers, they in turn are all obliged to support it financially.

This system was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Leading up to that case, public sector workers routinely went on strike to win unions — often without legal sanction. The Abood case recognized public sector unions and provided a mechanism for dues payment. These unions went on to become a vital force within organized labor, and staunch defenders of public services.

A well-bankrolled war on labor. The Friedrichs lawsuit is part of a larger strategy to destroy unions across the U.S. through misnamed “right-to-work” laws. Labor more aptly calls them “right-to-starve.” A major backer of the movement is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate funded right-wing lobbying group. It also promotes racist voter ID and “stand your ground” laws.

Under the Taft-Hartley Act passed in 1947, Congress mandated that states could adopt such laws. By 1948, 12 states, most in the South, had done so. The initial push came from the National Association of Manufacturers and white supremacists who hoped to stop the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) from forging solidarity between southern white and Black workers. Where these laws are on the books, workers are allowed to become “free riders” who can enjoy union benefits, protection and representation, without contributing any dues to fund these services.

Subcontracting, outsourcing, trade pacts, and anti-union laws have decimated union numbers over several decades. With labor so weakened, right-wing groups are renewing their push to expand “right to work” across the nation.

In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rammed through Act 10, denying bargaining rights to public sector workers. Within the year, statewide membership in one of the largest public unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), declined from 62,818 to 28,745.

This year, with unions still reeling, Walker leveled another blow, imposing right-to-starve on all unions, public and private, making Wisconsin the twenty-fifth state in the Union to adopt such a law. This latest defeat is a sobering lesson on why the entire labor movement has a huge stake in stopping the Supreme Court from ruling in favor of Friedrichs.

With half the states now banning agency shops, organized labor is at a tipping point, in its most precarious position since the 1930s. From a high of 34.8 percent membership in 1954, only 11.1 percent of workers are now in unions. Among them, education workers have the highest rate of unionization at 35.3 percent. By comparison, only 6.6 percent of all private sector workers are now unionized.

Life-and-death issue. In “right to work” states, the rate of occupational fatalities is 34 percent higher than in other states, according to the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy at the University of Michigan. The Economic Policy Institute found that wages of full-time workers are lower by an average $1,558 a year in these states than in those with a meaningful right to organize, even when the wages of union and non-union workers are averaged together. Employees are also less likely to be covered by pensions or health benefits.

Equally serious as the attempt to stamp out the organized voice of the working class, is the drive to overturn public-sector unions as a means to eliminate their role in defending public services. From public transit workers to school teachers, public employees are in the forefront of fighting privatization schemes and budget cuts to the public services that poor and working people rely upon. In taking aim at these unions, corporate America hopes to eliminate one of the biggest obstacles to their belt-tightening, austerity agenda.

Revive labor’s fighting spirit. While the main attack on organized labor is from the outside, the heads of many unions bear some responsibility for today’s desperate state of affairs. Years of reliance on the Democrats and friendly relations with bosses have moved too many unions away from their true source of power — the rank and file’s ability to stop production on the shop floor through the strike.

One way this has happened is through “binding arbitration” agreements, where the ability to strike is replaced with supposedly neutral professional arbitrators who impose contract conditions on union-represented workers in exchange for labor peace. Such deals may make the job of labor officials easier, but they have come at a steep price in fewer contract gains and less member engagement.

Internal democracy and freedom of dissent, the lifeblood of any organization, has suffered in many unions, as leaders become removed from the concerns and struggles of the members they represent.

The urgent need to mobilize against the Friedrichs case and others like it can be a fresh opportunity for the rank and file to return unions to their radical roots and to do the kind of organizing that gave rise to their power in the first place.

Unionists can call on the AFL-CIO to organize a national march in Washington, D.C., against “right to work” laws and in defense of the right of unions to exist. They can put the Supreme Court — and lawmakers — on notice, regardless of whether the Court takes the Friedrichs case.

Members can demand that unions take the money they usually give to Democrats for elections and launch a campaign to defend union rights, build solidarity between unions, and enlist public support. Only the ranks can send the urgent message that there’s no time to waste in gearing up for this battle!

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While wealthy parents pour more resources into their children’s futures, middle- and lower-income families are being squeezed, resulting in an education gap

After the carnivalesque Republican debates showcasing bombast like Donald Trump’s utterly preposterous “build a wall” idea, or Carly Fiorina’s shameful calls to defund Planned Parenthood, or Chris Christie and Rand Paul just screaming at each other, the Democratic debate provided a welcome zone of substance and sanity. Despite their differences, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton focused on a less sensational but crucially important issue: paid family leave. As Sanders put it, “Every other major country on Earth, every one, including some small countries, say that when a mother has a baby, she should stay home with that baby. … [It] is an international embarrassment that we do not provide paid family and medical leave.” Ditto for Clinton: “I want to do more to help us balance family and work [and] it’s about time we had paid family leave for American families and join the rest of the world.”

Read it and weep: A new study by the Russell Sage Foundation, “Too Many Children Left Behind,” compares the United States with three other Englishspeaking countries, and we come up far short. Australia offers new parents 18 weeks of paid leave, Canada offers a year, and the UK offers nine months. And us? We guarantee a paltry 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and only for government employees or people who have worked full-time for 20 weeks at companies with more than 50 workers. Estimates are that only about 12 percent of private-sector U.S. workers have access to paid leave.

The Sage study provides compelling data to support the need not only for paid family leave, but also for highquality early childhood education for all kids. Because the United States has the most stingy and retrograde family policies of any developed country, our children are not doing as well educationally as children elsewhere. In 2012, 15-year-olds in at least 22 countries, including Estonia, Slovenia, Vietnam and Latvia, had higher math scores than U.S. kids, based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Our results were only marginally better for science literacy. And our poor showing is based, in part, on significant socioeconomic differences among our children. As income inequality continues to soar in our country, it has a powerful and determining impact on kids who are not well-off, and thus on our collective future.

Their indifference to inequality aside, you’d think the GOP might care about this, given that, as The Atlantic reported, “PISA scores are an economic indicator: rising scores are a good sign that a country’s economy will grow as well.”

“Too Many Children Left Behind” provides compelling evidence that the achievement gap begins even before American children start kindergarten. The study found that “inequalities in children’s cognitive skills at school entry are significantly larger in the United States than they are in the other three countries,” in part because privileged children can go to high-quality preschool programs while others often cannot. This hurts children from poor families and exacerbates generational poverty. But the study also found that middleincome families are squeezed: Middle-income mothers typically work the longest hours, yet their wages have stagnated and they often can’t afford preschool, let alone private school. Meanwhile, wealthy families have been “investing a larger share of their resources in their children” in what the authors liken to an achievement “arms race.” So, American children from middle-income families have more in common with their poorer peers at school than their wealthier ones. Because the first five years of life are so crucial to cognitive and emotional development, these inequities can have lifelong consequences for these children, their financial well-being and for us as a society.

Much of this is a result of our government’s profound disengagement from supporting families and children. In particular, the study blames the lack of comprehensive workfamily policies, such as universal pre-K and paid sick leave. The resultant inequality of opportunity is “not inevitable.”

How can we remedy this? Institute paid family leave so all parents have time to nurture their children. Provide highquality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Raise the minimum wage and increase tax credits for parents and the poor. This country is leaving way too many children behind—and it can do better

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If you thought CEOs were earning way too much while the bulk of their companies’ employees got left behind — well, you weren’t wrong.

The pay gap between chief executives of major U.S. firms and their median workers is massive, according to a recent report from career review site Glassdoor, which looked at data from 2014. The average pay ratio of CEO to median worker was 204-to-1, the report found. At the top of the list, four CEOs earn more than 1,000 times the salary of their median worker.

The biggest gap was at media company Discovery Communications, where CEO David Zaslav earned $156.1 million last year, nearly 1,951 times the firm’s median salary of $80,000.

Following him in the next three top slots were Chipotle boss Steve Ells, who earned $28.9 million, or 1,522 times the median salary of $19,000; CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo, whose $32.4 million pay was nearly 1,192 times that of the median worker’s $27,139; and Walmart chief Doug McMillon, who made $25.6 million last year, about 1,133 times the median employee’s $22,591.

Glassdoor pulled CEO salary data from Securities and Exchange Commission filings and used employees’ self-reported salaries from its own site. Its report includes 441 of the S&P 500 companies.

Lawmakers are already pushing to make this issue more transparent. Earlier this month, the SEC approved a rule that would require companies to disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the median worker.

Income equality is likely to be a key issue in the upcoming presidential election. Vice President Joe Biden, who reportedly is considering a run in 2016, has expressed concerns in private conversations that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may not be able to effectively back issues like economic inequality.

Another Democratic presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, has been forceful on the topic. “The decision to require companies to disclose how much more CEOs are paid than workers is an important step in the fight against income inequality,” Sanders said earlier in August of the SEC’s new rule.

“I hope that shining a spotlight on the disparity will help working families,” Sanders added. He has also advocated for a $15 federal minimum wage.

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This Labor Day we recognize the incredible achievements of America’s working people and celebrate all those who make our country run. Many of us will be busy with barbecues, festivals and other types of family events that bring everyone together.
Amid all the celebrating, we must truly consider what strengthens our families and communities and take a look at how public  policies have deliberately diminished working peoples’ ability to sustain a good living and driven our economy out of balance. Working people are the backbone of our nation and need to be recognized as such, both in word and deed.
Too often, those working every day for a better life are forced to take a back seat to corporate interests which care only about their own bottom line. Workers everywhere are standing up and speaking out for fundamental, lasting change regardless of whether they work in manufacturing, engineering, service or retail. Every day, working people use their talent, dedication and drive to make our nation stronger.
This Labor Day should be a celebration of working families, because we are ready to speak up together, change the rules and bring lasting economic balance so that every family can pursue the American Dream and work for a better life. On Labor Day, we are asking all working families to highlight the single greatest thing that unites us “Working. For a Better Life” and to join the push for a fairer and more just economy. Can we count on you?

 

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Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow

Unions have a decision to make: organize or die. It’s that simple. These are the only two options now that the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case “Friedrichs v. California Teacher Association.”

The court intends to take aim at the head of organized labor by ruling against the California Teachers Association, and in the process fundamentally change labor law in a way that would cripple public sector unions, the last bastion of significant social power in the U.S. labor movement. If the public sector unions are destroyed, the private sector and building trades will be targeted next, as the devastation in Wisconsin proved.

Although the Supreme Court is expected to be anti-union, there is still time to change the Court’s mind. The Supreme Court is like any other political organization: it is incredibly sensitive to public sentiment and flexed social power.

For example, gay marriage wouldn’t be legal today if not for the boldness, tenacity and mobilization of the LGBTQ movement. The labor movement has much to learn from this experience. Like labor unions today, gay marriage wasn’t very popular too long ago. But activists fought like hell to change public opinion and display their power, winning their rights in the process.

Most unions on the other hand seem terrified of their own power. Instead of acting boldly and mobilizing, unions stay passive and quiet, and consequently their members often feel powerless. But there is inherent power in a union that waits to express itself.

For example, the national movement for a $15 minimum wage was started by unions, and unions helped lead the successful campaigns for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Such victories weren’t conceivable two years ago, but unions finally flexed their muscles and won big.

Unions also acted boldly in opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Obama’s free trade deal that is certain to lower wages in the U.S while favoring corporate profits. Unions helped educate millions of people about the TPP and threatened politicians who voted “yes,” causing a crisis in Congress in the process. And while the TPP may still pass, unions have promised the politicians who voted for “fast track authority” that they will be unemployed after the next election.

The “fight for $15” and the anti-TPP organizing are just small examples of what unions are capable of. And more action is needed, now. The Supreme Court will decide on the future of the union movement in the fall. The clock is ticking.

All unions should create action plans now, which should address two fundamental questions:

1) how to better engage and represent their members

2) how to better engage the community, especially by fighting for and winning issues important to union and non-union workers.

If unions successfully engage their members and their community nationally, the Supreme Court will likely think twice. And even if the Supreme Court does rule against unions, the blow will be deflected by this organizing, serving only to spur more pro-union action.

Below are some suggestions that unions can adopt to engage the community and their members. Other ideas may be better for different unions. The important thing is that unions have a plan and act, now!

ACTION PROPOSALS:

– Hold community town halls about what unions are, how to organize one, and the impending Supreme Court decision. Invite local politicians and insist that they become public champions against the Supreme Court decision.

– Have events in the union hall that are open to the community. Allow neighborhood and community groups to use the union hall for meetings or events.

– Fight for good union contracts. Educate members about the importance of organizing a credible strike threat to win a good contract (here are “strike school” materials created by SEIU 1021 that may help).

– Fight for and win a $15 minimum wage for all workers, which will also serve to strengthen the bargaining hand of all workers who make over $15. In states where there are voter ballot initiatives unions should aim for a statewide minimum wage of $15. Unions in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have won a $15 minimum wage; and now people in those cities are much more “pro union.” Unions who have members that make under $15 should demand $15 for a base wage in the next contract negotiations while asking for community support of the campaign, as unions have done in Portland, OR and elsewhere.

– Fight for and win rent control for communities facing exorbitant rents, which is nearly every city in the country. Working people in general will be won over to the union cause if they see organized labor fighting for affordable rent for all. Unions should be fighting for ANY important issue to a particular community, especially since rank – and – file union members are also members of that community.

– Create member-run union committees whose mission is to educate and build community within the union. Give members control over what the committee does, and give union resources to the committee. Some possible activities may include: “member appreciation” for the whole family; a BBQ at a park, union education workshops, movie screenings at the union hall, happy hour, etc.

– Give support and coordinate with the Black Lives Matter movement. There is tremendous energy across the nation that unions must organize with and support. Many of the issues most immediate to African Americans are often issues directly connected to the labor movement. Martin Luther King , Jr.once remarked at an AFL-CIO convention:

“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures,… the duality of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis from which we bleed.”

This quote gets to the heart of the matter. MLK understood that the very existence of strong unions is a counterbalance to the giant power of corporations and the wealthy that oppress African Americans as well as other minorities, the poor, and working people in general.  MLK knew and appreciated the significance of unions being the only organization of working people that was organized and sufficiently resourced to protect broader layers of working people.

There are many unions across the country that have taken MLK’s words to heart, enabling them to create strong connections with their communities.

One excellent example is SEIU 1021 in northern California. Local 1021 led the campaign for a $15 minimum wage in San Francisco, and also worked in a coalition to win the important “Retail Workers Bill of Rights”.

Local 1021 has also taken a more aggressive attitude towards winning better contracts for its members by organizing strikes and focusing on education and internal organization.

The important thing is that SEIU 1021 is trying new ways to strengthen their union and their union’s ties to the community. They are taking risks and acting boldly, something the national labor movement must do immediately.

Some unions think that they must either focus on internal union representation, or focus on new organizing or community work. This is wrong. Unions must do it all, and it can only be done if members are either engaged in the work of the union, inspired by the work of the union, or connected to the union in some other way. Members must really feel like the union is “their union,” and the broader community should feel the same way.

Although the above tasks seem gargantuan, there are no short cuts to saving the labor movement. If public sector unions are squashed , the remaining private sector unions will be scattered like ants and stomped.

If unions are made relevant to their members and the community , they will again be immune to the threats of the wealthy and corporations, as they were in the decades following World War II when the union movement was made strong through collective action and fighting for all working people.

The only way to win the allegiance of the broader community is to fight for issues important to them. In an era where tens of millions are experiencing a social crisis, unions can no longer rely on lobbying Democrats for half measures. A deeper change is being demanded everywhere.

Given the seriousness of the situation, every union has a duty to its members to explain the significance of the upcoming Supreme Court decision, what can be done to prevent it, and to immediately prepare the ground for a more engaged, energetic, and relevant union movement.