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Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Boilermakers

Mon, 2019-07-15 10:04
Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Boilermakers

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Boilermakers.

Name of Union: International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers (IBB)

Mission: Uniting members across multiple industries and occupations in the union's common endeavor of improving each other's lives and lifestyles through union representation.

Current Leadership of Union: Newton B. Jones serves as international president of the Boilermakers. Jones began his career as a Boilermaker 47 years ago and has worked as a field construction boilermaker, high rigger, tube roller, certified pressure welder and in other jobs in the industry. In 1981, he joined the staff of the international union. Five years later, he was appointed director of organizing and communications. After that, he served as international vice president for the Southeast Section and in 2003 was chosen to complete the unexpired term of International President Charles W. Jones, who retired. Newton Jones was then re-elected as international president in 2006, 2011 and 2016.

William T. Creeden serves as international secretary-treasurer, and the Boilermakers have five international vice presidents that serve geographical regions, including Lawrence McManamon (Great Lakes Section), J. Tom Baca (Western Section), Warren Fairley (Southeast Section), John T. Fultz (Northeast Section) and Arnie M. Stadnick (Canada).

Current Number of Members: 60,000

Members Work In: Construction and repairing of electric power plants, refineries, pulp and paper and steel mills; building naval ships and commercial tankers; repairing locomotives; making cement; mining coal, gypsum and talc; forging tools for industry; and making consumer goods.

Industries Represented: Heavy industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, railroads, cement, mining and others.

History: The Boilermakers are one of the oldest unions in the country, rising out of the Industrial Revolution's demand for steam power in 1880. The Boilermakers have been a part of many major events in American history, helping to build structural sections of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the machinery to make the Panama Canal, the world’s first nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, the U.S.S. New York amphibious transport dock (which includes steel from the Twin Towers), military ships and various submarines, nuclear, gas-fired and advanced coal-fired power plants and the aluminum-based fuel for the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. The Boilermakers have been headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, since 1893, and there are now more than 200 Boilermaker local lodges across North America.

Current Campaigns/Community EffortsThe Boilermaker Reporter provides news and information useful to workers in the industry. The Boilermakers have established national funds for pensions, health and welfare, and an annuity trust. They also provide education and training, one of the best apprentice programs in the country and are partners in an award-winning alliance with construction industry contractors and owners resulting in innovations for improved safety, manpower availability, training and cost savings.

Learn More: Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 07/15/2019 - 10:04

Demanding Better: The Working People Weekly List

Mon, 2019-07-15 09:44
Demanding Better: The Working People Weekly List AFL-CIO

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Demanding Better: "Over three days in June, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka held town halls in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit to talk with workers about the future of NAFTA. Listen to some of the highlights from that conversation on the latest episode of 'State of the Unions.'"

Make History: What Working People Are Doing This Week: "Welcome to our regular feature, a look at what the various AFL-CIO unions and other working family organizations are doing across the country and beyond. The labor movement is big and active—here's a look at the broad range of activities we're engaged in this week."

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: SMART: "Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers."

Union Member Brings Unemployment Benefit Increase Bill to Governor’s Desk: "Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill Sunday that raises the region’s lowest unemployment benefit. Under the bill, the maximum weekly payment will rise from $330 to $400—a long-overdue increase since the last update in 2002."

Pride Month Profiles: Joni Christian: "For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Joni Christian."

Labor Activist Wins Primary Election for White Plains Common Council: "Jenn Puja (IUOE), a labor activist and organizer, won her primary race for White Plains Common Council in New York this week. Puja, along with two other labor-endorsed candidates, advanced to the general election in November."

We Must Not Forget Oregon Democrats’ Betrayal on PERS: "The best thing about being president of the Oregon AFL-CIO—with less than 100 days until the end of my term—is that I can now say whatever I want, whenever I want. For example, in the past, I felt limited in the ways I held legislative Democrats accountable. There is a tendency to soften one’s criticism, understanding that there is always a next session and another legislative agenda. Holding legislative leadership accountable with statements that are too harsh could impact future legislative agendas. I am sorry to say: There are too few Republicans that we can count on to help move our agenda, making the Democrats the only game in town for labor issues."

Working People Deserve Better: In the States Roundup: "It's time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states."

House to Pass $15 Minimum Wage; Studies Debunk GOP Job Loss Claims: "'Every time momentum builds for lifting wages, conservative ideologues say it will cost jobs. Every time they’ve been dead wrong,' said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. He estimated the hike would help 40 million workers. Scott put the figure at 27 million minimum-wage workers alone. 'Being consistently wrong and not caring about workers are the only two things conservative economists can be counted on for,' Trumka continued. 'This is more of the same noise. They want subservient, scared workers whose suffering will expand their stock portfolios. Our country is finally poised to lift millions out of poverty and make our country work for the people who work. Let’s raise the wage, and we’ll prove the CBO wrong again.'"

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 07/15/2019 - 09:44

Working Families Must Be Together, and Free

Fri, 2019-07-12 15:28
Working Families Must Be Together, and Free

As working families around the country prepare for likely immigration raids, we reaffirm this statement from the AFL-CIO Executive Council. America’s unions will continue to fight for all working people. The labor movement is taking steps to ensure that members of our communities and our unions know their rights and know that we will all stand together in the face of these attacks. Be safe out there.

From the Executive Council statement:

The escalating attack on immigrant and refugee families in our country is an affront to labor's values and a clear threat to the freedoms we all hold dear.

Family is the reason we go to work every day. America’s unions categorically reject policies that tear families apart. Yet what we see in our country today is a dramatic and deliberate increase in the casualties caused by our broken immigration system.

Instead of ensuring the safety of workers doing dangerous and difficult jobs, we see our workplaces raided and hard-working union members arrested while employers continue with business as usual.

Instead of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, we see those fleeing violence cast back into harm’s way, shamefully imprisoned for profit and torn from their children, no matter what age.

Instead of expanding rights and protections for more of our workforce, we see a million working people with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals needlessly stripped of their status and rights, making them once again subject to exploitation and separation from their loved ones.

These policies harm and offend all working families.

The AFL-CIO opposes immigration enforcement tactics that breed fear and chill the exercise of basic workplace rights. We demand government agencies that serve the greater good and are accountable both to their workforces and the public. We reject family and child detention, the “zero tolerance” policy at the border and any limits on due process for vulnerable populations. We insist that the way to raise wages and standards is by empowering workers and creating pathways to citizenship for all those whose labor helps our country to prosper.

We can and we must do better. The labor movement remains committed to the ongoing struggle to build an immigration system that lifts people up and ensures that we are all able to live and work with dignity, regardless of where we were born. We know that real security can only be achieved through humane approaches, and we will continue to demand justice for long-term members of our communities, our workforce and our unions, as well as for those who newly seek refuge in our country.

We will prevail by rejecting the politics of division and building a strong, inclusive and democratic movement for justice for all working families.

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 07/12/2019 - 15:28

‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Demanding Better

Wed, 2019-07-10 09:19
‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Demanding Better AFL-CIO

Over three days in June, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka held town halls in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit to talk with workers about the future of NAFTA. Listen to some of the highlights from that conversation on the latest episode of “State of the Unions.” 

State of the Unions is a tool to help us bring you the issues and stories that matter to working people. It captures the stories of workers across the country and is co-hosted by two young and diverse members of the AFL-CIO team: Mobilization Director Julie Greene and Executive Speechwriter and Editorial Manager Tim Schlittner. A new episode drops every other Wednesday featuring interesting interviews with workers and our allies across the country, as well as compelling insights from the podcast’s hosts.

Listen to our previous episodes:

State of the Unions” is available on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher and anywhere else you can find podcasts.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 07/10/2019 - 09:19

Tags: Podcast

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: SMART

Tue, 2019-07-02 15:40
Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: SMART AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

Name of Union: International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)

Mission: To advocate for fairness in the workplace, excellence at work and opportunity for all working families.

Current Leadership of Union: Joseph Sellers Jr., a second-generation sheet metal worker, serves as the general president of SMART. He began his career as an apprentice in 1980 at Local 19 in Philadelphia. In 1994, he was elected to the local's executive board and was appointed as training coordinator in 1996. He later served as business representative, president and business manager of Local 19.

In 2009, Sellers was elected as SMART's 11th general vice president. He became general secretary-treasurer in 2011 and was re-elected in 2014. He became general president in 2015. During his time in office, Sellers has "developed and led special campaigns to increase outreach and awareness for construction, production and transportation industries members, union industry officials and policy makers on key issues including pensions, health care, and apprenticeships." He "implemented and continues to lead enhancements to the union’s information technology, professional skills training and lifelong learning curricula."

Richard McClees serves as general secretary-treasurer and John Previsich serves as transportation division president. SMART also has 15 vice presidents with various areas of responsibility.

Current Number of Members: 216,000

Members Work As: Sheet metal workers, service technicians, bus operators, engineers, conductors, sign manufacturing and installers, welders, HVAC technicians, production employees and more.

Industries Represented: Sheet metal production and installation, HVAC service, air, rail, bus and other mass transit, among many others.

History: The history of this organization begins in the second half of the 19th century, with the founding of several unions that were forerunners of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA) and the United Transportation Union (UTU), which later joined together to form SMART. In 1888, SMWIA formed and by 1901, the union had grown to more than 5,500 members from 108 locals in the United States and Canada. In 1899, SMWIA first received a charter from the American Federation of Labor.

In 1922, SMWIA railroad shop members launched one of the biggest strikes in U.S. history, when 400,000 workers walked off the job. After a federal injunction shut down strike support activities, the action ultimately failed. But the seeds were laid for future collective action and success. SMWIA continued to grow, particularly as many smaller unions in the industry came on board to help expand the power of their members . By 1925, membership had risen to 24,000 from more than 440 locals.

Over the ensuing decades, sheet metal workers rose to prominence. In 1927, members from Local 206 in San Diego built a major part of the Spirit of St. Louis, which Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. During World War II, members were secretly part of the team that developed the atomic bomb. After the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, SMART members in the building trades helped search for survivors and SMART transportation workers evacuated as many people as possible from the danger zone.

In 1969, the UTU was officially formed with the merger of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen and the Switchmen's Union of North America. And in 2008, UTU and SMWIA merged to become the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART).

Current Campaigns/Community Efforts: SMART has numerous teams focused on member safety. The SMART Action Network gives members and supporters opportunities to make a difference on important issues with opportunities to take action on numerous issues and events as a rapid response network. SMART's Product and Services directory helps people find union-made in America products and services within the sheet metal industry. SMART also has the SMART Army that  engages members in local communities and events in order to build and promote members’ role in local communities while furthering an understanding of the values of the labor movement. SMART publishes The Member's Journal and the SMART TD News to provide news and additional resources related to the industry.

Learn More: WebsiteFacebookTwitter, YouTube

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:40

Union Member Brings Unemployment Benefit Increase Bill to Governor’s Desk

Tue, 2019-07-02 11:14
Union Member Brings Unemployment Benefit Increase Bill to Governor’s Desk Delaware General Assembly

Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill Sunday that raises the region’s lowest unemployment benefit. Under the bill, the maximum weekly payment will rise from $330 to $400—a long-overdue increase since the last update in 2002.   

The bill was marshaled through the General Assembly by Rep. Ed Osienski, a member of Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 669. 

“The unemployment benefit provides a vital lifeline to residents who find themselves out of work due to no fault of their own. The bills don’t stop coming in, even if the pay does,” Osienski said after the bill was signed. “It’s troubling that we have not increased this weekly benefit since 2002, which has made it more difficult for Delawareans to make ends meet during these times when they’re most in need of this assistance.”  

The Delaware AFL-CIO worked with Osienski and other allies on the bill, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The increase was the first in 17 years and comes long after the recession of 2008 and 2009. The high jobless rate at that time left no room for an increase.

This victory comes on the heels of several other legislative wins that the Delaware AFL-CIO has achieved by working with union members elected to state office. Earlier achievements this year include expanding collective bargaining rights and worker training programs.

Tim Schlittner Tue, 07/02/2019 - 11:14

Pride Month Profiles: Joni Christian

Fri, 2019-06-28 12:06
Pride Month Profiles: Joni Christian GenderIdentityWatch

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Joni Christian.

When she was growing up as a boy, Joni Christian used to pray that God would change her into a girl. At the age of 26, Joni's prayers came true and with the help of hormone therapy and surgery, she became the woman she always knew she was.

At the time of her surgery, Christian was an assembly line worker at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. She also was a member of the UAW. Leading up to her surgery, Christian was undergoing hormone treatment, but she had kept the transition quiet at work and people had no idea that she was about to come out. When she returned, she dropped her birth name and introduced herself as Joni Christian. 

The reaction was not positive. Her workplace became hostile and supervisors were transphobic. She was met with ridicule and sarcasm, and people shunned her. Women at the plant circulated a petition to keep her out of women's restrooms. Men stared at her and subjected her to cruel remarks.

She responded by going to her UAW local and using her legal services benefit to sue GM for invasion of privacy. The company settled with her, and her workplace improved significantly. The president of the local, Gary Briner, was very supportive. About Christian's experience, Briner said:

We had only started having women working on the line in 1971, and we had to get tough then with how some of the men were acting. So, women alone were a scarcity, let alone what Joni was doing. Some of the workers were acting like animals. But there were other brothers who were pretty embarrassed. She was paying dues, she had the right to do whatever she wanted.

After winning the lawsuit, Christian remained at GM for 30 more years, and she retired in 1999 with a pension. Since then, she has been active in trans causes and in her church. She said that her union was vital in the happy outcome:

Returning to work after undergoing gender reassignment surgery was challenging. I would've been fired, if not for the union. The union respected me as a person, even if some of the members didn't approve of me. I learned that an injury to one was an injury to all....

Christian said that both her job at GM and her membership in UAW gave her the opportunity to become who she truly was:

The company provided the paycheck that enabled me to pay for medical treatment, and the union protected me from being fired or discriminated against on the job. The union respected me as a union person even if some of the members didn’t approve of me.

Christian's activism was driven by a simple idea:

Not everyone has a union, but everyone deserves to have confidence that whatever their gender expression is, they should be able to get up and go to work without fearing that their livelihood will be taken from them.

The situation at the time was a lonely one. No one in her plant was openly LGBTQ 40 years ago. Since then, GM has evolved and now offers diversity programs and sensitivity training. The UAW has done even more to promote equality, but there is still work to be done. 

Christian has a message about the future aimed at LGBTQ youth:

The world is coming to an understanding that God’s beautiful humanity is very diverse. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are telling the world that we are part of all societies and will settle for nothing less than respect.

When we tell the next generation that it really does get better, we have to stand up and tell our stories so that their stories will be respected as well.

Joni Christian stood up for herself and her gender identity at a time when the country was openly hostile to LGBTQ Americans. Not only did she use the tools at her disposal—her union and the legal system—to improve her own life, but Christian set a precedent and served as an example for those who now follow in her footsteps.

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 06/28/2019 - 12:06

Tags: LGBTQ Rights

Labor Activist Wins Primary Election for White Plains Common Council

Fri, 2019-06-28 09:51
Labor Activist Wins Primary Election for White Plains Common Council Westchester-Putnam Counties Central Labor Body

Jenn Puja (IUOE), a labor activist and organizer, won her primary race for White Plains Common Council in New York this week. Puja, along with two other labor-endorsed candidates, advanced to the general election in November.

Puja received strong labor backing, including from Operating Engineers (IUOE) General President James T. Callahan, and thanked all unions for their work once the primary results were in. Puja said, “There’s a first for everything. This is the first time the primary has ever been in June. This was the first time I’ve ever run for office, ever. I’m overwhelmed, and I’m proud of the people-powered, grassroots, positive campaign that we’ve all run.”

If elected in November, Puja will be the youngest woman ever elected to the Common Council.

Puja is the labor council director for the Westchester-Putnam (N.Y.) Central Labor Body. She was born into a union family and has fully committed herself to the advancement of the union movement. She saw this election as an opportunity to increase her impact fighting for working people in White Plains and around the region. 

Puja is proud to stand with her union brothers and sisters to support them with their local labor issues on picket lines, at rallies and behind the scenes. As an organizer, she has affiliated dozens of new locals as she cultivates coalition partners throughout Westchester and Putnam Counties. 

Tim Schlittner Fri, 06/28/2019 - 09:51

What You Need to Know About CEO Pay: The Working People Weekly List

Thu, 2019-06-27 14:30
What You Need to Know About CEO Pay: The Working People Weekly List AFL-CIO

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

12 Facts You Need to Know from the 2019 AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch Report: "The AFL-CIO this week released its annual Executive Paywatch report. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler discussed the federation’s findings during a call with reporters, highlighting the continuing pay inequity between workers and CEOs, discussing the impact of the Trump administration’s tax law on executive compensation and pointing out some of the worst offenders among major corporations."

International Labor Organization Fights Gender-Based Workplace Violence and Harassment: Eight years ago, women union leaders and activists began campaigning for the International Labor Organization to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work. Last week, at the ILO’s100th anniversary, workers, governments and employers voted overwhelmingly to approve a binding Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work."

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Machinists: "Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Machinists."

AFL-CIO Trade Tour: Demand Better in New NAFTA: "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) hosted a series of town hall meetings in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan this week, where he talked with working people about NAFTA and what working families need from a new deal."

Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen: "For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen."

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Heat and Frost Insulators: "Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Heat and Frost Insulators (HFIU)."

Hundreds of Thousands Demand, 'No Vote On NAFTA 2.0 Until It Is Fixed': "'Last week workers in Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Akron, Dayton, Cleveland and Detroit told me to bring back a message to D.C. that the new NAFTA is not good enough,' said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. 'People are hurting and searching for answers. They refuse to support another trade agreement that doesn’t account for their needs. Working people are ready to turn the page on NAFTA and end the era of outsourcing. It is time for negotiators to go back to the table and hammer out an agreement that is good for working people.'"

CEOs Made 287 Times More Money Last Year than Their Workers Did: "After years of kicking and screaming, corporate executives have finally released pay data on what their CEO makes versus their median worker. Unsurprisingly, the gap is obscene. The average chief executive of an S&P 500 company earned 287 times more than their median employee last year, according to an analysis of the new federal data released Tuesday by the AFL-CIO labor federation."

Trumka in Ohio: Fix Trade Pact: "Speaking to some 200 union activists here June 18, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called for renegotiation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to stop the ongoing tidal wave of plant closings. The shutdowns unleashed by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have continued as recently as last March when General Motors closed its auto assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Trumka said NAFTA has caused elimination of almost one million jobs, destroying the lives of workers and their families, who lost homes, wages, pensions and  their entire way of life as communities were disrupted across the land. U.S. corporations, driven by greed for higher profits, often relocated plants to Mexico where U.S. companies pay little or no taxes, workers are paid much lower wages and goods they produce are exported to the U.S. without tariffs."

In Montana, AFL-CIO President Talks About the Future of Coal: "Rich Trumka, the president of the country’s largest union federation, the AFL-CIO, was in Montana for the state’s convention in Missoula last week. The federation represents many workers in Montana’s troubled coal industry. Trumka is a third-generation miner. The Pennsylvania native can’t accept that workers, like those in Colstrip, are getting squeezed out of their jobs. 'We sent a person to the moon and brought them back. We can’t figure out how to burn a lump of coal, cleanly? I just refuse to believe that,' he says."

AFL-CIO President Says 'Useless’ Trump Trade Deal Hurts Workers: "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said a renegotiated trade deal between the United States and its neighbors will 'suck jobs' from America if stronger enforcement language isn’t included. President Donald Trump said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement has 'tremendous union support' at the White House Thursday, but Trumka encouraged workers in the largest federation of American unions to oppose the deal as written. In a fiery speech, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said the USMCA is a 'bulls--t, non-enforceable, bad for workers trade agreement.'"

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 06/27/2019 - 14:30

We Must Not Forget Oregon Democrats’ Betrayal on PERS

Thu, 2019-06-27 14:11
We Must Not Forget Oregon Democrats’ Betrayal on PERS Oregon AFL-CIO

The best thing about being president of the Oregon AFL-CIO—with less than 100 days until the end of my term—is that I can now say whatever I want, whenever I want. For example, in the past, I felt limited in the ways I held legislative Democrats accountable. There is a tendency to soften one’s criticism, understanding that there is always a next session and another legislative agenda. Holding legislative leadership accountable with statements that are too harsh could impact future legislative agendas. I am sorry to say: There are too few Republicans that we can count on to help move our agenda, making the Democrats the only game in town for labor issues.

I don’t believe in exclusive support of political parties. Organized labor should support those who support workers, and hold those accountable who side with a corporate capitalist agenda at the expense of workers. But there was a wrong and a betrayal done to Oregon workers in 2019 that is so heinous it would be wrong to look the other way for the sake of future agendas.

The corporate capitalist agenda was on full display during the 2019 Oregon legislature as business beat the drum about PERS attacks and used the Student Success Act as leverage. The Student Success Act promises to increase much needed funding to Oregon schools by $1 billion per year. Oregon corporations will pay for the increase through a gross receipts tax. In 2016, Oregon corporations paid the lowest corporate taxes in the nation.

I commend the Oregon legislature for increasing K-12 funding. It is high time that Oregon corporations begin paying their fair share for Oregon services, and I hope this is the first step in achieving that goal.

Since 2008, Oregon corporations have pounded the drum on their perception that PERS provides overly generous retirement benefits and funding. PERS is currently funded at 80%. Translation: If every active PERS member were to retire today, Oregon would be $27 billion short. This shortfall is a result of the 2008 stock market crash and has little to do with tier three members who make up just over 60% of current active public employees. These employees receive a much smaller benefit than previous retirees. The PERS tier three payroll cost is 8%. Such legacy costs shouldn’t be the responsibility of workers, but treated as an Oregon debt that needs to be paid.

Oregon corporations involved with the passage of the Student Success Act exacted a price for their support. Senate Bill 1049 will result in a loss of between 7% to 12.5% in workers’ individual retirement accounts, according to the PERS agency. SB1049 does little to nothing toward paying down the PERS unfunded liability. Tier three recipients already receive the lowest retirement benefits in PERS, and the only thing SB1040 ensures is that tier three will see even lower benefits in the future.

The bill passed both the House and Senate by one vote. Seven House Democrats and five Senate Democrats stood with Oregon workers and voted against SB1049. Pressure from their leadership and the governor’s office did not dissuade them from fulfilling their promises to Oregon workers.

The 31 House Democrats and the 13 Senate Democrats who voted for the legislation, along with the governor, broke their promises to Oregon workers. I have reams of candidate questionnaires from union-endorsed House and Senate candidates who promised not to cut PERS benefits. The governor promised as well. To go back on that promise undermines their credibility with the unions who endorsed them. Worse yet, such action undermines the very credibility of our political programs. Our members spent their hard-earned money and dedicated countless volunteer hours electing Democrats that they trusted to fulfill the commitments they made to them through the endorsement process. These candidates sought our endorsements!

The Oregon Senate and House leadership kept in question exactly when SB1049 would be up for a vote until the last minute. This blatant political manipulation of the legislative process intentionally prevented workers from witnessing the betrayal. Then, the legislative handwringing and excuses for the vote came like an avalanche. Excuses ranged from: “We stopped the Nesbitt PERS initiative, which would have been worse,” to one senator actually saying: “You really didn’t believe us, did you?”

For the record, the Nesbitt PERS initiative, which takes an axe to PERS benefits, is still active and on course to be on the 2020 ballot.

It should not be lost on anyone that while corporations were at the table having input into the Student Success Act, Oregon public sector unions were not invited to have input into the governor’s PERS proposal, or the House and Senate proposals. The PERS reforms of 2005 and 2013 both included the leadership of public sector unions. This begs the question: Why would the governor and legislative leadership totally silence the voice of workers in this process?

If it wasn’t for the PERS betrayal, many would view the 2019 Oregon legislative session as the most successful in a decade. The SB1049 betrayal becomes the focal point because unions and our members worked hard and spent their hard-earned dollars based on promises made during the campaign season. Members ask: How can we elect a governor, achieve super majorities in the House and Senate, and still public employee unions weren’t even invited to the the table in PERS reform? Oregon unions should not base their endorsements on promises made by House and Senate members who are fast to break those promises when it is convenient. Rather, we must support candidates based on their demonstrated performance.

There must be an analysis made for those union-endorsed candidates who faced the greatest odds in crowded primaries and are only in the legislature due to the hard work of our members. We must not forget.

This post originally appeared at NW Labor Press.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 06/27/2019 - 14:11

12 Facts You Need to Know from the 2019 AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch Report

Thu, 2019-06-27 11:38
12 Facts You Need to Know from the 2019 AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch Report AFL-CIO

The AFL-CIO this week released its annual Executive Paywatch report. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler discussed the federation’s findings during a call with reporters, highlighting the continuing pay inequity between workers and CEOs, discussing the impact of the Trump administration’s tax law on executive compensation and pointing out some of the worst offenders among major corporations.

About the report, Shuler said:

Here’s the key point: Even with that extra cash, wages are not keeping up with inflation. The average worker isn’t making enough to cover rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 15 of the largest cities across the country! Meanwhile, 40% of hourly workers have nothing saved up for an emergency, while 75% have less than $500.

We know this equality gap isn’t new. Over the past decade, the average S&P 500 CEO’s pay increased by more than $5 million, while the average worker only saw an increase of less than $800 a year. Not surprisingly, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio remains high: 287 to 1.  

I’ll repeat that: 287 to 1. Meaning the average CEO earns 287 times what an average employee earns. 

This disparity represents a fundamental problem with our economy: Productivity and corporate profits are through the roof, but wages for working people are flat—and staying flat.

Here are 12 key findings from the report that illustrate Shuler's words:

  1. The average S&P 500 company CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 287 to 1. 
  2. In 2018, CEOs of S&P 500 companies received, on average, $14.5 million in total compensation. 
  3. This year marks the first where nearly all S&P 500 companies have disclosed the pay ratio between their CEO and median employee. This important disclosure did not come easy. Major corporations and industry groups lobbied long and hard to hide this valuable information from shareholders and the general public.
  4. The average S&P 500 CEO’s pay has increased by $5.2 million over the past 10 years, a CEO pay increase of more than half a million dollars annually.
  5. The average U.S. rank-and-file worker’s pay has increased only $7,858 over the past 10 years, a pay increase of less than $800 per year annually.
  6. Sixty of the largest U.S. companies paid $0 in income taxes in 2018 despite being profitable, including corporations like Amazon, Netflix, Delta and General Motors.
  7. Corporate income tax collections fell by $93 million in fiscal year 2018 after the passage of the 2017 Republican tax cut, a 31% drop.
  8. Stock buybacks by the top 15 U.S. companies with the largest holdings of cash abroad spiked dramatically after the 2017 corporate tax cut on overseas profits. Ten of the largest U.S. companies—Amgen, Apple, Bank of America, Cisco Systems, Citigroup, Facebook, JP Morgan, Microsoft, Oracle and Wells Fargo—combined to buy back more than a quarter-billion dollars of their own stocks in 2018. Not surprisingly, the average CEO pay for these companies increased dramatically as well.
  9. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was the highest paid CEO in 2018. His compensation package was estimated to be worth nearly $2.3 billion, although many doubt that he can achieve his performance targets. Tesla had the highest pay ratio out of all companies: 40,668 to 1.
  10. On the other hand, 14 companies paid their CEO one dollar or less in 2018.
  11. The highest pay ratio for S&P 500 companies was at clothing retailer Gap, where the pay ratio was 3,566 to 1 and the median employee earned $5,831 (a part-time sales associate).
  12. The lowest pay ratio in the S&P 500 was at Alphabet (parent of Google), where its co-founder and CEO Larry Page received just $1 compared to its median employee pay of $246,804.

In conclusion, Shuler said:

Bottom line: For too long, corporate greed and rigged economic rules have created a relentlessly growing pay gap between CEOs and the rest of us. It’s why everything from a college education to retirement security to gas prices are getting harder and harder for people to afford. We see it every day in communities across the country. And that must change. 

Our economy works best when consumers have money to spend. That means raising wages for workers and reining in out-of-control executive pay. This year’s report is a stark reminder that working people must use our collective voice to form bigger, stronger unions and rewrite the economic rules once and for all. 

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 06/27/2019 - 11:38

Tags: Paywatch

International Labor Organization Fights Gender-Based Workplace Violence and Harassment

Wed, 2019-06-26 11:27
International Labor Organization Fights Gender-Based Workplace Violence and Harassment AFL-CIO

Eight years ago, women union leaders and activists began campaigning for the International Labor Organization to tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work. Last week, at the ILO’s 100th anniversary, workers, governments and employers voted overwhelmingly to approve a binding Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

This victory is a testament to the power of trade unionists organizing around the globe. It’s also a reflection of the profound need for tools to address the harassment and violence too many workers, particularly women workers, face as a daily reality.

The ILO is a tripartite institution, meaning workers have a seat at the negotiating table. Led by our spokesperson Marie Clarke Walker from the Canadian Labour Congress, worker representatives from around the world spent the past two years negotiating strong, inclusive language that ensures all workers have meaningful protection from violence and harassment, particularly gender-based violence and harassment.

You can check out the full convention here, and a supplemental recommendation that further clarifies the obligations spelled out in the convention here. Some highlights include:

  • Establishing that everyone has a right to a world of work free from violence and harassment, and every country that ratifies the convention will "promote and realize" that right.

  • Protecting all workers, regardless of their contractual status, in both the formal and informal economy, as well as interns, apprentices, jobseekers, job applicants, volunteers, terminated workers and employers as individuals.

  • Ensuring protections not just in the physical worksite but in the broader world of work⁠—such as work-related trips and social events, places where workers are paid, rest or use sanitary and washing facilities, employer-provided accommodations and during the commute.

  • Addressing violence and harassment committed by or against third parties.

  • Requiring each national government that ratifies the convention to:

    • Adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach for the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, which should be developed in consultation with workers and their unions.

    • Enact both preventative measures and access to remedy, including gender-responsive, safe and effective complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms, support, services and remedies.

    • Identify sectors, occupations and work arrangements that leave workers more vulnerable to violence and harassment.

    • Promote collective bargaining as an important tool to address violence and harassment.

    • Provide specific protections for women and other vulnerable groups.

    • Require employers to take steps to prevent violence and harassment, including developing a workplace policy, providing support and training and identifying and addressing workplace hazards in consultations with workers and unions.

The United States worker delegation included leaders from UNITE HERE Local 1 Chicago’s "Hands Off, Pants On" campaign. The Hands Off, Pants On campaign demonstrates the importance of many of the convention’s provisions. Hotel housekeepers primarily face violence and harassment from third parties. A survey found more than half of housekeepers in Chicago had a guest expose themselves, with many recounting harrowing stories of jumping over furniture or locking themselves in bathrooms to escape unwanted sexual advances. Local 1 successfully negotiated protections, including panic buttons, into collective agreements for unionized housekeepers and then campaigned for a citywide ordinance to provide the same protections for all housekeepers in Chicago. This is an excellent example of how unions can use their power to win meaningful protections for workers. 

To read more about what unions can do to prevent sexual harassment specifically, check out our toolkit; and for excellent examples of how unions tackle violence and harassment around the world check out this report.

Winning the convention is an important victory, but in many ways it is just the beginning. Now, workers will turn to ensuring governments widely ratify and implement these important protections to end violence and harassment in the world of work.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 06/26/2019 - 11:27

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Machinists

Tue, 2019-06-25 09:27
Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Machinists AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Machinists.

Name of Union: International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)

Mission: To work for members to preserve and grow the IAM on the basis of solidarity and justice, and to strive for a higher standard of living for people who work.

Current Leadership of Union: Robert Martinez Jr. is the 14th international president of IAM. Martinez is a U.S. Navy veteran who began his career in labor in 1980. That year, he joined IAM Local 776A in Fort Worth, Texas, where he worked as an aircraft assembler at Lockheed Martin. In the ensuing years, he served in various positions in the local before being appointed to the IAM Safety and Health Department in 1995. In 1999, he was named the Southern Territory Education Representative. That position was followed in 2002 by appointment as special representative and in 2003 with Martinez being named as general vice president for the Southern Territory.

Dora Cervantes serves as the general secretary-treasurer and IAM has eight general vice presidents: Gary R. Allen (Western Territory), Sito Pantoja (Transportation), Mark Blondin (Aerospace), James Conigliaro (Eastern Territory), Rickey Wallace (Southern Territory), Stan Pickthall (Canada), Brian Bryant (Headquarters) and Steve Galloway (Midwest Territory).

Current Number of Members: 600,000.

Members Work As: A wide range of trades in many industries.

Industries Represented: Aerospace, airlines, transportation, railroad, federal government, automotive, defense, woodworking, health care and several other industries.

History: In 1888, 19 machinists met in secret in a locomotive pit in Atlanta to vote to form a union. The next year, 34 locals were represented at the first Machinists convention, with Tom Talbot being elected Grand Master Machinist. With the granting of the first Canadian local, the union officially became the International Association of Machinists. Membership at this point was about 4,000.

A few years later, in 1892, IAM negotiated its first collective bargaining agreement with a railroad company. In 1895, IAM joined the American Federation of Labor. Top issues that IAM faced in the early decades were wages, length of the workweek and number of hours worked per day. IAM had significant success on all three fronts and by 1905, there were more than 750 locals and membership was approaching 300,000. Membership would continue to grow, peaking at more than 1 million members in 1968. In 2013, IAM celebrated its 125th birthday.

Current Campaigns/Community Efforts: The IAM is engaged in high-profile organizing campaigns for some 40,000 flight attendants and fleet service workers at Delta Air Lines and for Boeing workers in Charleston, South Carolina. IAM works with Guide Dogs of America to provide trained guide dogs to blind people. IAM2020.org is the IAM’s new initiative to involve members in the union’s 2020 U.S. presidential endorsement process. The IAM Addiction Services Program helps members and their families struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. The Machinists Disaster Relief Fund assists members affected by disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. The IAM Free College Benefit helps members and their families attain higher education. Decisions & Choices provides guidance for workers who are laid off. The IAM Veterans Services Program helps connect veterans with training and services. The William W. Winpisinger Education and Technology Center is a facility that provides for the complete range of educational needs of IAM members. The IAM Journal is the award-winning magazine published by the union. Activate L!VE is the IAM’s live hosted weekly talk and interview show on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. iMail is the IAM’s twice-weekly email newsletter.

Learn More: WebsiteFacebookTwitter, YouTube, Instagram.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 06/25/2019 - 09:27

A Better Trade Deal: The Working People Weekly List

Tue, 2019-06-18 16:42
A Better Trade Deal: The Working People Weekly List AFL-CIO

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

Strive for a Better Trade Deal: "The North American Free Trade Agreement has been nothing short of a disaster for working people. For a quarter-century, Michiganians have watched as corporations shuttered plants, raided pensions and steadily eroded communities that had come to embody the promise of the American Dream. NAFTA is a disaster. But it was no accident. Politicians and corporate executives saw trade as a way to further tilt the economy in their favor. They sold out jobs and livelihoods here at home and sacrificed workers' rights abroad. Nothing was off limits so long as they could sniff out fatter profit margins."

Passaic County Central Labor Council Encourages Education with Awards for High Schoolers: "Last night I was a part of something so truly amazing I am still having a hard time putting it into words. And for those of you that know me, words are usually my thing. There is so much that I am grateful for and want to share. It was an incredible night and to me, it was more than 100 years in the making."

Save Our VA!: What Working People Are Doing This Week: "Welcome to our regular feature, a look at what the various AFL-CIO unions and other working family organizations are doing across the country and beyond. The labor movement is big and active—here's a look at the broad range of activities we're engaged in this week."

‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Union Proud: "On the latest episode of 'State of the Unions,' Julie and Tim talked with Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis as the AFL-CIO constituency group celebrates its 25th anniversary. They discussed the progress made by LGBTQ working people over the past quarter-century and the work still left to be done."

Governor Murphy Signs ‘Panic Button’ Bill to Protect Hotel Workers from Assaults, Harassment: "Hundreds of hotel workers, union leaders and elected officials gathered at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City today to witness the signing of a bill requiring hotels to equip certain employees with 'panic buttons' for their protection against inappropriate conduct by guests."

Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway: "For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our first profile this year is Irene Soloway."

Stop the War on Working People: In the States Roundup: "It's time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states."

Get to Know the AFL-CIO's Affiliates: "Throughout the year, we've been profiling each of our affiliates. Let's take a look back at the profiles we've already published."

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Fire Fighters: "Next up in our series, which takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates, is the Fire Fighters."

The TWU Celebrates Its 20th Organizing Victory!: "The TWU organizing machine is in full swing. Under this new leadership, the Transport Workers union has just won our 20th new worker organizing drive. We continue to grow and thrive across the entire transport sector. Since 2017, our membership has increased from 137,000 to 151,000."

Economy Gains 75,000 Jobs in May; Unemployment Steady at 3.6%: "The U.S. economy gained 75,000 jobs in May, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.6%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage growth of 3.1% was lower than last month's 3.4% and, a downward revision of 75,000 for the job numbers for March and April signals that the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee needs to inch down interest rates."

AFL-CIO President Hosts NAFTA Town Halls in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania: "The president of the nation’s largest labor union announced Tuesday that he will hold a series of town halls about 'union members’ struggles under NAFTA, and what working people want to see from the administration’s proposed USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement].' The AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka will travel to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan over the course of three days in mid-June to speak with union members as the President Trump administration pushes Congress to ratify his replacement for the much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement."

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 06/18/2019 - 16:42

Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

Tue, 2019-06-18 11:30
Pride Month Profiles: Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our next profile is Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen.

In the early 1970s, Steve D'Inzillo was the business agent for New York City's Motion Picture Projectionists Local 306, an affiliate of the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He had built a reputation as a maverick and had a particular passion for expanding civil rights. He wanted  women to gain equal footing in the local, but the prospect was daunting. 

For women to win respect and acceptance in the union, they would need both the skills to do the job well and the toughness to deal with the small-minded men that opposed women's inclusion. D'Inzillo found the right women to challenge the system with Jeanne Laberge and Ruth Jacobsen, a lesbian couple who were willing to fight for their rights. Laberge had a union background and loved the idea of taking on the status quo. Jacobsen had been a "hidden child" during the Nazi occupation of Holland. 

In 1972, D'Inzillo sponsored Jacobsen's apprenticeship and she got her license a year later, making her New York City's first female "booth man." Laberge also applied and was admitted to the trade in 1974. D'Inzillo watched the women on the job and in the union hall and was impressed at how well they supported each other. Jacobsen and Laberge soon proposed that Local 306 sponsor a pre-apprenticeship program for women. D'Inzillo eagerly agreed. Many of those who signed up for the program were the sisters, wives and daughters of booth men, and they were paid less to work in lower-skilled jobs.

Laberge spoke about the success of the program: 

We got several licenses out of that first class. It was the first crack of having not just fathers and sons in the trade. We were into the feminist thing. We had the union change how they addressed the letters, to get rid of 'Dear Sir and Brother.' The men could be pretty derisive at meetings, so our women's group dealt with their disruptions.

Laberge and Jacobsen were the proximate cause for Local 306 adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policies in the late 1970s. After working with the women for years, the local's membership had no interest in excluding them. The local also began to regularly make contributions to lesbian and gay charities, and supported three gay members who were sick from AIDS.

This early success led D'Inzillo to ask Jacobsen to join the local's executive board, but she wasn't interested in board politics. Laberge, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about it and joined the board herself. Soon after she started a local newsletter, writing most of the articles. She became D'Inzillo's right-hand woman as he rose up the ranks of IATSE. He twice ran for the national presidency and was elected to be an IATSE vice president, with Laberge by his side the whole time. During his time as a leader in IATSE, Laberge said D'Inzillo was the only person at national conventions who pushed proposals that dealt with larger social and political issues, and she was a key part of those efforts.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 06/18/2019 - 11:30

Tags: LGBTQ Rights

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Heat and Frost Insulators

Mon, 2019-06-17 09:35
Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Heat and Frost Insulators

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Heat and Frost Insulators (HFIU).

Name of Union: International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers

Mission: Assisting members in securing employment, defending their rights and advancing their interests and through education and cooperation, raising them to that position in society to which they are justly entitled.

Current Leadership of Union: James P. McCourt serves as general president, first having been elected in 2015. McCourt is a second-generation pipe coverer who began his career with Asbestos Workers Local 6 in Boston in 1976. He received his mechanic's card in 1980 and served on the executive board of the local from 1982-1984. McCourt was president of the local from 1985-1987. In 1997, he was elected international vice president of the New York-New England States Conference. In 2001, he was elected by the General Executive Board to serve as general secretary-treasurer and was elected by the general convention to serve in that position three subsequent times. 

Gregory T. Revard serves as general secretary-treasurer.

Current Number of Members: 30,000

Members Work As: Experts in mechanical insulation, fire stopping, infectious disease control, asbestos and lead mitigation, sound attenuation, and specialty fabrication.

Industries Represented: The construction and maintenance of commercial, industrial, medical, bio-technical, governmental and educational facilities, among others.

History: In 1903, the Pipe Coverers Union Local No. 1 called for a national convention, which would establish what, the following year, would be named the National Association of Heat, Frost and General Insulators and Asbestos Workers of America. At the convention, the delegates adopted a constitution and A.J. Kennedy was elected the organization's first president. In 1910, American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers signed the charter of affiliation for the Insulators across the United States and Canada.

Joseph A. Mullaney was the second, and longest-serving, president of the international union, holding the position from 1912-1954. In 1938, the Insulators became formally affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL. Both World Wars boosted the need for workers with the skills of the Insulators and Asbestos Workers, the latter of whom were crucial in the reconstruction of the U.S. naval forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

After World War 2, membership in the Insulators boomed as locals opened apprenticeship programs. The industry was driven by the unprecedented expansion of national infrastructure in the 1950s and beyond. In the 1980s, as the link between asbestos and cancer was confirmed, the Insulators fought to gain acceptance of the facts and to enact and enforce regulations to minimize exposure to carcinogens.

Current Campaigns: The Professional Craftsman Code of Conduct promotes job site excellence and customer satisfaction. The Labor Management Cooperative Trust promotes the heat and frost insulation industry, particularly mechanical insulation, fire stopping and hazardous waste remediation.

Community Efforts: The Insulation Industry International Apprentice and Training Fund specializes in providing the highest-skilled and best-trained workers in the industry. The Insulators Tissue Bank seeks to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention of asbestos-related conditions, including mesothelioma. The annual Master Apprentice Competition has tested the skills and rewarded the best of the best HFIU apprentices for 18 years.

Learn More: WebsiteFacebookTwitter, YouTube

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 06/17/2019 - 09:35

Passaic County Central Labor Council Encourages Education with Awards for High Schoolers

Thu, 2019-06-13 14:22
Passaic County Central Labor Council Encourages Education with Awards for High Schoolers Passaic County CLC

Last night I was a part of something so truly amazing I am still having a hard time putting it into words. And for those of you that know me, words are usually my thing. There is so much that I am grateful for and want to share. It was an incredible night and to me, it was more than 100 years in the making.

Last week, the Passaic County Central Labor Council paved the way financially for four high school seniors to enter into the trades through an apprenticeship program with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). These four students from Paterson and Passaic were honored and recognized for their choice to enter into the union workforce. They were given education awards to pay for the books for their apprenticeship program to become unionized auto mechanics. Where our world usually celebrates going to college and gives all sorts of college scholarships, our Labor Council wanted to help make a difference for the future of unions.

We have (unfortunately) seen college scholarships given at breakfasts where the recipients don’t even show up to receive their money. Thousands of dollars not even appreciated or understood. And we, the Passaic County CLC, were determined to make sure that our awards would go to not only those who need it, who it would greatly impact, but also those who would appreciate the opportunity and want to be a part of a union.

These four 2019 high school graduates and their families were part of something special. It was the first-ever award ceremony in our county (and maybe even New Jersey) of its kind. Seeing the smiles on their faces was truly priceless.

These students received an earful (and a heart full) of advice and wisdom from union leaders who were once in their shoes, embarking on a new career path. They were welcomed into a greater union family and provided with an understanding of what this opportunity is all about.

The event was hosted at the Botto House/American Labor Museum, which is not only a historical landmark but was also the home of an immigrant family, silk mill worker Pietro Botto, who held gatherings of more than 20,000 silk mill workers who were on strike for some of the basic working rights we have today⁠—the eight-hour work day, child labor laws and workers' rights. Labor union organizers from the Industrial Workers of the World held rallies at this landmark and by the power of unions, and people coming together, their voices were eventually heard.

The Botto House is also a special place for me personally, as my great-grandparents, who were immigrant silk mill and factory workers in Paterson in the early 1900s, attended these rallies and strikes. My dad volunteered at the Botto House for more than 25 years and always made sure we understood that the roots of our family coming to America, that all we had, could have possibly started right here in the crowd.

There were things I knew about my dad when he passed away. Creating union opportunities within our community was something he was passionate about. Being able to hold your head high knowing that you gave your best was one of the only and most valuable things we have in life. It’s not about the cars you drive or how big your house is. It’s not about what college you went to. There are more important things in life that money will never buy. Or as he would say, “dirty hands make clean money.” He even had me write letters to the bishop of the Paterson diocese about his poor choices to support nonunion work when there were hundreds of union members/parishioners who were unemployed.

I can go on and on about my how proud my dad was to be a union member. He joined the Plumbers union after he served in the Marine Corps, not only to making a good living and provide for a family, but to be a part of something greater than himself. His path was not always easy. There were times when he was out of work and had a family to provide for, but to him, his chosen path was always worth it.

He often dragged us to events, to Labor Day parades and union rallies. He was a plumber, but one time we even hopped on a bus with IBEW Local 102 to head to a workers' rights rally in Philadelphia, because it mattered to him. He made sure our family knew why Labor Day isn’t just a Monday off, but it’s dedicated to the achievements of the backbone of America⁠—the honorable working class. If a store or a restaurant were built nonunion, he did not approve of us going there.

When my dad passed away, I wrote to the Passaic County Central Labor Council and asked if they needed any volunteers. After all, I wrote so many letters for my dad over the years, that I felt like I was already a part of it in a way. It was also a way for me to share my understanding of unions, how appreciative I was of all that I ever had in my life…and most of all, I felt like it was a way for me to stay close with my dad. To do something in his spirit. Something that he truly cared about.

Over the last few years, I have been blessed to work with some truly remarkable leaders. We have brainstormed and debated, and have been able to put some of our ideas into action. We’ve cared about the community⁠—brought Santa and hundreds of gifts to Martin De Porres village in Paterson. We’ve gathered hundreds of union members for labor walks and barbecues to help support politicians who care about union rights, workers’ rights and our communities. And now, we’ve provided a foundation and understanding for new union workers.

Last week, when I arrived at the ceremony for these students, my friends and colleagues on the Labor Council totally surprised me. They asked me to be a part of the ceremony. If I would hand the plaques to the students. Of course, I agreed. I was so excited. But, there’s more. When they uncovered the plaques, they unveiled to me that this would be “The Robert Ehrentraut Labor Education Award.”

I was shocked! I’m still crying, just thinking about it. What an honor!

I’m sure it’s something my dad wouldn’t believe if he was here today. To him, he simply did his job. It wasn’t about recognition, it was about doing your best, caring for your family and contributing to your community. The bar was set with expectations of integrity, hard work and care for others. Nothing less was even an option.

So, even almost five years after his passing, my dad is still teaching me to lead from the crowd. That it can be extraordinary to be ordinary. That there is honor in doing what you know in your heart is right.

More than 100 years ago my great-grandparents stood in the crowd for union rights. Last night, four students received an award in their grandson’s honor. Values come full circle in life and I couldn’t be more grateful to be my father’s daughter AND a member of the Passaic County Central Labor Council.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 06/13/2019 - 14:22

‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Union Proud

Wed, 2019-06-12 14:50
‘State of the Unions’ Podcast: Union Proud AFL-CIO

On the latest episode of “State of the Unions,” Julie and Tim talked with Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis as the AFL-CIO constituency group celebrates its 25th anniversary. They discussed the progress made by LGBTQ working people over the past quarter-century and the work still left to be done. 

State of the Unions is a tool to help us bring you the issues and stories that matter to working people. It captures the stories of workers across the country and is co-hosted by two young and diverse members of the AFL-CIO team: Mobilization Director Julie Greene and Executive Speechwriter and Editorial Manager Tim Schlittner. A new episode drops every other Wednesday featuring interesting interviews with workers and our allies across the country, as well as compelling insights from the podcast’s hosts.

Listen to our previous episodes:

State of the Unions” is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and anywhere else you can find podcasts.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 06/12/2019 - 14:50

Tags: Podcast

Governor Murphy Signs ‘Panic Button’ Bill to Protect Hotel Workers from Assaults, Harassment

Wed, 2019-06-12 10:07
Governor Murphy Signs ‘Panic Button’ Bill to Protect Hotel Workers from Assaults, Harassment New Jersey State AFL-CIO

Hundreds of hotel workers, union leaders and elected officials gathered at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City today to witness the signing of a bill requiring hotels to equip certain employees with “panic buttons” for their protection against inappropriate conduct by guests.

“We must protect the safety of workers in the hospitality industry,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said. “I am proud to sign panic button legislation that Bob [McDevitt] and the working men and women of UNITE HERE, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, Charlie [Wowkanech] and Laurel [Brennan], Senator Loretta Weinberg and so many others have fought for to give hotel workers greater security and the ability to immediately call for help should they need it on the job.”

The portable safety device, known as a panic button, will allow hotel workers to alert security personnel if they feel they are in danger or a compromising position while performing housekeeping duties. Today’s signing makes New Jersey the first in the nation to have a statewide law requiring hotels to provide their employees with such devices.

Hotels that do not comply can be fined up to $5,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each additional violation, according to the legislation.

“The safety of women in the hospitality industry has been overlooked,” said Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE Local 54. “I'm proud that my state is the first to pass and sign into law real protections for housekeepers in the hotel industry.”

The harassment of hotel workers, especially housekeepers, has been a longstanding issue the hotel industry has struggled to address. Unite Here Local 54, a union representing nearly one-third of casino and hospitality workers in Atlantic City, was a driving force behind this legislation, which will provide an additional measure of security for thousands of hotel workers across the state.

“Whenever I go into a room, I wonder what is going to happen,” said Miriam Ramos, a housekeeper at Bally’s in Atlantic City. “Most guests are nice and respectful, but every housekeeper has either been sexually assaulted or harassed doing her job, or knows someone who has.”

“I’m glad that the legislature and the governor are making it safer for us,” Ramos said.  

Assemblyman John Armato (D-2) introduced the “panic button” bill in the General Assembly in September. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) also sponsored the bill. Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Linda Greenstein (D-14) proposed it in the Senate.

“The New Jersey State AFL-CIO thanks the sponsors of the panic button bill for recognizing that hotel workers deserve to feel safe while on the job,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the state federation. “We are proud to have lobbied on behalf of this important legislation, which will no doubt help create a safer working environment for all of New Jersey’s hotel workers.”

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 06/12/2019 - 10:07

Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway

Tue, 2019-06-11 12:03
Pride Month Profiles: Irene Soloway Sisters in the Brotherhoods

For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our first profile this year is Irene Soloway.

As a young adult in 1978, Irene Soloway moved from St. Louis to New York. She was working in a bar that had a significant clientele who were roofers. Soloway referred to the behavior of her boss at the bar as "appalling," so she quit. The roofers in the bar that she knew jokingly offered her a roofing hammer. She took it as a challenge, and it made her want to show them that she could do the job.

Soloway did some roofing work, but hated it. She moved through various jobs in the construction industry, but settled on carpentry, both because she liked the work and the Carpenters union opened its doors to women. She became a member in 1979, when she began the Women in Apprenticeship Program. Soloway and other women were made to feel that they belong, that the program was more than tokenism.

At the time, not only were there few women in the building trades, even fewer of them were feminist Jewish New York lesbians. Soloway said that she rarely faced any direct discrimination. Instead, the concerns of rank-and-file members, women or otherwise, were largely ignored in her local at the time. She said:

The union and the apprenticeship in the Carpenters Union was now what I would consider sexist...we were never discriminated against within the school—but the specific issues that were barriers to women were never addressed specifically. So it was a second hand...diffuse kind of way that sexism was expressed.

Even when concerns were raised, leaders in the local were told to keep their concerns quiet, as they were all "brothers" in the union. Soloway explained:

We tried to inform the Carpenters Union of what we thought they needed to do to make the union receptive to women and to be inclusive. And we...became aware...that the Carpenters Union was not interested in fresh, new ideas coming from rank and file. We came in with ideas about having sexual harassment for the men in construction. We came in with ideas about having a Women's Committee that would address the issues of women in construction. We actually came in with ideas about how the apprenticeship school could be more in touch with the apprentices around issues of ethnicity and race and issues....And what we were always told was: We're all one Union and we're all brothers, and there's no need...to point out these differences because we're all carpenters.

This was the first time she had been in a union and Soloway was very excited about it because she believed that it was a structure that was supposed to support her and provide a steady job. But her local at the time was very undemocratic and her concerns weren't taken seriously. Despite the fact that she was often the only woman in the meetings, she kept attending for the next five years, never backing down from the agenda that she pursued. 

In 1979, Soloway had been a founding member of United Tradeswomen, a group of diverse women working in the building trades. The organization was originally formed to recruit women into apprenticeship programs but quickly grew to provide support and advocacy for women who were starting to enter the construction industry in New York. Much of Soloway's early activism took place outside the union hall.

Fear and intimidation weren't limited to the union hall, they were also present in the workplace. Rumors were rampant that members who spoke out against union leadership were met with violence or had their careers and lives destroyed. Soloway wasn't intimidated. By 1994, she noted in an interview that many of the things she and allies had pushed for at the time have come to pass:

Now almost fifteen years later—they actually are being addressed, so that in terms of, yes, there is actually a Women's Committee now that's...sanctioned to meet within the Carpenters school, and it's advertised in the Carpenters paper that there is such a committee, and who the contact people are—so there's, at least, an acknowledgement of this committee. And there is specific training—sexual harassment training—for men and being done by women who are Carpenters—graduates of our school—who are now teaching at the school—which is an important part of the program. And another one of our other ideas was about teaching labor history in the Carpenters school, which was then ignored, and now, you know, like history's being taught in the Carpenters school.

During the mid-1980s, she got a job with the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation. The shift from at-will work that was left to the whims of the local's power structure to a secure job with security was a major turning point in her life. When she started working for the city, she felt that her job was more secure and she could speak out more. In the civil service, they had elected stewards, not ones chosen by the power structure. She won the steward position after becoming outspoken about asbestos problems on her worksite. She started refusing to work in contaminated areas. Management wasn't prepared for the problem and had to deal with it because of her. Several men came and asked her to run for steward. She won.

Soloway also helped produce the newspaper "Hard Hat News" and had to use pseudonyms like Brick Shields, to disguise her identity. She worked on a long, but successful, campaign to expand representation for rank-and-file members within the district council. In 1990, she appeared with other carpenters before the New York City Commission on Human Rights to testify about gender and race relations in the industry. She shared widespread reports that women in the industry faced threats of rape and physical violence and were subjected to pornography and insulting personalized graffiti on the worksite. 

While she was working as a carpenter at Lincoln Hospital, she began taking pre-med classes and completed the coursework to become a physician's assistant. She left carpentry and began work at a methadone clinic. She looked back on her activism and those of her fellow carpenters and what impact it had:

We still felt very much on the outside of the construction industry. It felt very kind of scary to us, but we kind of created cultural groups that supported ourselves and each other, that was able to move forward into that industry. Now I think that women are more into the industry, so I think we did do something. I think we did, like, move ourselves inside—from the outside to the inside—by creating an identity for ourselves, as well as educating ourselves and each other, and trying to educate the union about us....I think our presence and our strong continued presence for each other and ourselves was the main accomplishment of this group. 

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 06/11/2019 - 12:03

Tags: LGBTQ Rights