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What Are Tariffs, Anyway?

Thu, 2018-03-15 12:46
What Are Tariffs, Anyway?

The word "tariff" is popping up in the news a lot lately. Check out this short video that helps you understand what tariffs are and what impact they have on working people.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:46

Inslee Signs Law 'Banning the Box' in Washington State

Thu, 2018-03-15 11:42
Inslee Signs Law 'Banning the Box' in Washington State The Stand

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law the Fair Chance Act (H.B. 1298), sponsored by state Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D), extending "ban the box" job-seeker protections to cover the state’s public and private employers.

Washington becomes the 11th state (and the first in 2018) to require both public- and private-sector employers to delay background checks and inquiries about job applicants’ conviction records until the individual has first had an opportunity to present his or her qualifications for the job.

More than one in five adults in Washington state—disproportionately people of color—have a conviction or arrest record that can show up on a routine criminal background check for employment. The Fair Chance Act will help ensure that these 1.2 million people are judged by their qualifications and work experience and not reflexively rejected by employers at the start of the hiring process.

Fair-chance reforms allow people with records to get their foot in the door and have been shown to increase the number of people with records interviewed and hired. H.B. 1298 delays the criminal background check until the applicant meets the basic criteria for the job and precludes employers from automatically or categorically excluding individuals with a criminal record from consideration prior to an initial determination that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position.

The Washington Fair Chance Act was backed by a broad coalition of business, labor and community groups, led by the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Washington Defender Association. The Washington Fair Chance Coalition has been working since 2015 to promote adoption of the law. The Washington State Labor Council also strongly backed the legislation.

"Years of policies have unfairly and disproportionately targeted communities of color—in sentencing, through the criminalization of public health epidemics, and the underfunding of public resources made available to them," said Eric González Alfaro, WSLC's legislative and policy director. "The Fair Chance Act is one of several criminal justice reform strategies we strongly supported this legislative session to help end mass incarceration in our state and instead put us on a pathway to mass employment."

Civil Survival, an advocacy organization in Washington led and staffed by directly impacted people, was actively involved in supporting the policy. According to Tarra Simmons, the organization’s executive director, who recently graduated from law school and was ruled eligible to take the bar examination by the Washington Supreme Court, "As a formerly incarcerated woman and mother who struggled with finding employment upon re-entry, I am proud to be a part of the coalition effort that led to this successful outcome. We still have a lot of work to do, but this is a first step for many of us to be judged on our current qualifications instead of banned outright because of our past mistakes."

"H.B. 1298 represents a major step forward for Washington state’s business community and economy, while providing hope and opportunity to all those qualified workers who have struggled to find work with a conviction record but who are ready to give back to their communities," said Maurice Emsellem, program director with the National Employment Law Project.

With the addition of Washington state, roughly one in three adults now live in a state or locality where private employers are governed by a "ban the box" law. Nationwide, 31 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted a ban-the-box law regulating either public or private employers.

A fair chance to work for people with records also means a better chance at success for the next generation of Washington residents, as nearly half of all U.S. children have at least one parent with a record. What’s more, research demonstrates that employment of people with conviction histories can improve the economy and benefit public safety through decreased recidivism.

This post originally appeared at The Stand.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/15/2018 - 11:42

Study Shows Quality New Member Orientation Programs Lead to Greater Commitment and Participation

Thu, 2018-03-15 10:35
Study Shows Quality New Member Orientation Programs Lead to Greater Commitment and Participation

The strength of any union depends on the degree to which its members support the union and show that support by getting involved in union activities. Convincing members to support the union, and participate in its work, is one of the central challenges that every local union leader and activist faces. New research, released by the Labor School at Penn State University and Jobs With Justice Education Fund, provides strong evidence that leaders and activists can strengthen support for the union among new members and increase the degree to which they get involved in the union, through effective new member orientation (NMO) programs.

In workplaces where a new hire is not required to join the union or pay fees, it is critically important that the union makes sure the new hire understands the significant role they play and how they and their family will benefit from membership. Providing a positive introduction to the union will greatly increase the chances that the new hire will join the union in the short run and get involved in the long run.

The survey Penn State conducted looked at the interaction that nearly 500 new members of a large national union from across the country had with their union during their first year on the job. The results indicated that members who participated in a NMO program that they found helpful had significantly higher commitment to the union than those who did not participate in a NMO. It also found that new members with higher levels of commitment were more likely to participate in the work of the union than members with lower levels of commitment.

The clear conclusion from this research is that high-quality NMO programs have a positive impact on members’ level of commitment to the union, and the more committed new members are to the union, the more likely they are to participate in union activities.

An important part of the findings is that for NMO programs to have a positive impact, the programs themselves have to be viewed as helpful by new members. NMOs that are sufficiently long to communicate the information new members need to know about the union and that provide high-quality informational material are viewed by new members as more helpful than shorter, less informative programs.

This new study confirms the principle that first impressions make a lasting difference. At a point in time when many union leaders and activists worry that the next generation of workers do not understand or value the important role unions have played, they can help make sure they do by putting every new hire through a high-quality NMO program. The result will be a higher level of commitment and participation among new members and a stronger union.

Learn more about the study and best practices in creating an effective NMO program.


Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/15/2018 - 10:35

Make Your St. Patrick's Day Union-Made in America

Wed, 2018-03-14 14:55
Make Your St. Patrick's Day Union-Made in America AFL-CIO

Many people will celebrate St. Patrick's Day by going green and grabbing a frosty brew, and Labor 411 has more than a few great options. Its union-made beer list has topped 250 choices; and if you’re putting a meal together, it's got some delicious savory accompaniments.

Corned Beef
  •  Saag’s
  •  Thumann’s
  •  Winter’s Premium Deli
Potatoes and Cabbage
  • Dole fresh potatoes
  • Purchase cabbage at a union grocery store like Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC, Albertsons, Haggen and many smaller stores like PCC Community Markets (see or for more info).
  • Bass, Beck’s, Blue Moon, Budweiser, Busch, Butte Creek, Coors, Dundee, Duquesne, Genesee, Goose Island, Hamm’s, Henry Weinhard’s, Iron City, Jamaica Red Ale, Keystone, George Killian’s, Landshark Lager, Lionshead, Mad River, Mendocino Brewing, Michelob, Mickey’s, Miller Genuine Draft, Milwaukee’s Best, Natural Ice, O’Doul’s (nonalcoholic), Pabst Blue Ribbon, Red Stripe, Red Tail Ale, Rolling Rock, Samuel Adams, Schlitz, Shock Top, Steelhead, Third Shift

This list of options for your St. Patrick's Day is courtesy of Labor 411.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 03/14/2018 - 14:55

Victory in Pennsylvania Shows Path to Power Is Through the Labor Movement

Wed, 2018-03-14 11:15
Victory in Pennsylvania Shows Path to Power Is Through the Labor Movement AFL-CIO

Democrat Conor Lamb won a close special election for Congress in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, a massive turnaround in a district that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 by 20%. Rep.-elect Lamb embraced working people and stood up for the issues that are important to us, and we helped propel him to victory.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Conor won this race because he proudly stood with unions, shared our agenda and spoke out for our members. He didn’t just ask for our support—he earned it by opposing unnecessary “right to work” laws, backing protections for coal miners’ pensions and supporting commonsense trade enforcement.

His victory proves that the path to power runs through the labor movement.

Union members used our passion and resources to help elect Lamb. Now we are going to use that same energy to hold him accountable in office. Winning elections is only the first step. Winning pro-worker policies is the ultimate goal.

Tonight’s result is a wake-up call for every single politician. Earning the support of working people is a high bar that must be cleared with meaningful words and actions—not blind deference to party operatives or corporate interests.

Working people are ready to move heaven and earth to help a genuine ally. But we won’t waste a dime or a door knock on fair weather friends. If you want working people to rally around you, then you need to rally around us.

The Mine Workers noted the importance of Lamb's victory for pensions:

As political observers across the nation try to parse the results of last night’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District for clues to upcoming midterm contests, one issue that clearly stands out is solving the multi-employer pension crisis. PA-18 demonstrates that voters who fear for retirement security will blur partisan lines to support candidates they believe have their backs.

News accounts have documented a sharp division between the winner in the PA-18 contest, Conor Lamb, and his opponent, Rep. Rick Saccone, on addressing the pension crisis. Saccone ducked the issue when asked to address it by reporters, preferring to eat ice cream rather than answer whether he supported the American Miners’ Protection Act. Lamb and his surrogates, including United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts, by contrast, have made solving the pension crisis a central issue.

“You elect this man to Congress, and you won’t have to lobby him one minute,” said Roberts at a recent campaign rally for Lamb. “He’s for your pensions, he’s for your union, he’s for your health care. This is a ‘yes’ vote.”

In the wake of Lamb’s victory last night, Roberts noted that “a lot of our members who didn’t vote in the last election or voted for President Trump came out and voted for the one candidate who was clear about standing up for their pensions and their retirement security. They may still agree with the President about a lot of things, but they know that if they lose their pension they will be scrambling just to survive. All the other things any politician is doing or saying fall by the wayside when a person is in survival mode.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO said:

“For weeks union members have held thousands of conversations across southwestern Pennsylvania on the issues that affect working families and their jobs. This election is proof that when working people come together in a united labor movement, we can achieve outstanding results. In living rooms, on telephones, and at work sites, our brothers and sisters mobilized to elect a candidate who stands up for working people and the issues that matter in their daily lives. Conor Lamb has demonstrated that honesty, integrity and support for a fair economy for all is the future of American democracy,” stated President Rick Bloomingdale.  

“Election Day, even a special election, is only the first step in our determined effort to win economic justice for all. Our activism and mobilization will continue throughout 2018. Our work to lift-up candidates who will fight for working people, their rights to collectively bargain, and work to unrig the system, is far from finished. On March 13th we ran through the finish line in the race for the 18th district, but the marathon continues,” added Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder.

Allegheny County Union Veterans Council Chair Craig Romanovich said: 

The Union Veterans Council is proud to have been part of Rep.-elect Conor Lamb’s victory. Because of the hard work put in by union veterans and the working people of the 18th Congressional District, we are sending our champion, our voice, to Washington, D.C.

.@ConorLambPA won this race because he proudly stood with unions, shared our agenda and spoke out for our members. #1u

— AFL-CIO (@AFLCIO) March 14, 2018 Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 03/14/2018 - 11:15

Legislation from DeLauro and Clark Would Strengthen Protections for Tipped Workers

Tue, 2018-03-13 13:36
Legislation from DeLauro and Clark Would Strengthen Protections for Tipped Workers

As we reported in January, President Donald Trump's Department of Labor is proposing a rule change that would mean restaurant servers and bartenders could lose a large portion of their earnings. The rule would overturn one put in place by the Barack Obama administration, which prevents workers in tipped industries from having their tips taken by their employers. Under the new rule, business owners could pay their waitstaff and bartenders as little as $7.25 per hour and keep all tips above that amount without having to tell customers what happened.

An independent analysis estimates this rule would steal $5.8 billion from the pockets of workers each year. A whopping $4.6 billion of that would come out of the pockets of working women. This is bigger than simply the well-deserved tips of restaurant workers. This is another example of extreme legislators, greedy CEOs and corporate lobbyists uniting in opposition to working people. They want to further rig the economic playing field against workers, people of color and women. 

Last week, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) offered up legislation that will strengthen protections for tipped workers and secure tips as the property of the workers who earn them. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta indicated that he will support Congress’ legislative efforts to stop companies from claiming ownership over tips instead of the workers who earn them. 

Hundreds of thousands of you already have spoken out, sending comments of opposition to the rule straight to the Labor Department. It’s time for us to take the next step together. We can hold Trump’s Department of Labor accountable and make sure that Congress hears our opposition to this ridiculous and unfair change. Take action, and tell Acosta to support amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act that will secure tips as the property of workers and oppose Trump’s rule legalizing wage theft.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 03/13/2018 - 13:36

Enforcing Trade Rules Is Not a ‘Trade War’

Tue, 2018-03-13 10:54
Enforcing Trade Rules Is Not a ‘Trade War’ The Stand

The recent tariffs on steel and aluminum have been characterized as trade war. This is weird because countries often enforce trade rules with targeted tariffs and sanctions, and markets adjust. What’s the real issue?

In the orthodoxy of free trade, tariffs are heresy. Any tariff suggests that the neoliberal free trade approach has failed and government intervention is required. Also, if we protect steel, then the “protectionist barbarians” all rush in and want import restrictions, too.

This begs the question, “Why have rules for globalization at all, if we won’t enforce them?”

The context for the recent steel and aluminum tariffs should start with a central message from the 2016 presidential campaign. Millions of workers and communities around the country feel left behind by our approach to globalization. We can do something about that…or not.

President Donald Trump speaks in terms of win-lose or “everyone is out to get us.” But he is doing something. The advice from free-trade establishment experts seems to be:

  • We can’t do anything;
  • Don’t worry about large chronic trade deficits, de-industrialization, stagnant wages and growing inequality; and
  • At some point in the future, China will realize that our approach is right and theirs is wrong.

This is a tough message in communities that have lost jobs in aluminum, logging and other industries that had sustained those communities for many years.

A better leadership message for tariffs would give more context for these tariffs.

First, China has built historic overcapacity in steel and aluminum. Chinese leaders recognize they should close some plants, particularly those that are most polluting. Multi-national talks have tried to address this for years. China has slow-walked that process. Their dumping has continued, holding the price of steel below the fair market level. This damages our steel and aluminum industries, which have closed facilities and laid off tens of thousands of workers.

It should not be our public policy to let China distort markets and take production from the United States to China. Our economy already has lost electronics, home appliances, textiles, solar panels and many other manufacturing industries. If China displaces our steel and aluminum, they could repeat that process with cars and airplanes.

Tariffs are rough tools, but legitimate and appropriate in cases where dumping has been identified. Economist Rob Scott proposed a refinement to Trump’s tariffs. Any country that also has a tariff on steel from China would be exempted from our tariff. This would reverse Trump’s fascination with trade war, by calling for a multilateral defense of appropriate rules for globalization.

Second, China, Japan, South Korea and other countries have well-designed industrial policies that serve their national interests and have raised their living standards. For decades, we have followed a particularly weak industrial strategy, which diverts gains to those at the top, while de-industrializing our economy, worsening inequality, and eroding confidence in social and political institutions.

Our approach works very well for investors and global companies but leaves most people behind. Our neoliberal free-trade approach to globalization is exhausted socially, politically and economically. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump all said we need a new approach to globalization. Well-targeted tariffs would be part of that. We also should stop China’s misalignment of currency, which encourages companies to move production from the U.S. to China. Renegotiating NAFTA gives us an opportunity to strengthen labor rights, help the environment and change other rules that have encouraged production to move offshore.

In general, we need more effective national strategies that recognize our national interests and make our economy fairer and stronger. We have done that in our past. Other countries do that for themselves now.

Side note #1: We should recognize social dumping as a legitimate trigger for “border adjustments,” which would have the same general effect as tariffs. From that perspective, the recently shelved Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (TPP) should never have included five countries that fail to meet global standards in fighting human trafficking. Even worse was inclusion of Malaysia, a sixth TPP country that was ranked by our State Department as being among the worst in the world for human trafficking.

Side note #2: Nothing in economics or trade theory says we need maximum possible trade. There is an optimum level of trade, which may be less than what we have now.

Neoliberal free trade is the philosophical opposite of industrial strategy. Our free trade approach blurs national boundaries and national identities. It puts interests of global investors above public interests. It thwarts national policies.

Many of our major trading partners have effective industrial strategies. This is not about trade war. It’s game theory. Countries with effective strategies will prosper while those with ineffective strategies will fall behind.

This post originally appeared at The Stand.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 03/13/2018 - 10:54

A Chance to Fight Back: The Working People Weekly List

Mon, 2018-03-12 12:13
A Chance to Fight Back: The Working People Weekly List

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

Trumka: Tariffs Are a Chance for American Workers to Fight Back: "Ali Velshi talks to Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the largest organization of labor unions. Trumka says the president’s tariffs will not start a trade war, but instead give American workers a chance to fight back."

Trump Imposes Steel, Aluminum Tariffs with Few Exceptions: "'Wall Street’s hair is on fire over these tariffs because wealthy investors enrich themselves by closing mills and factories in the United States and moving them overseas,' AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. 'Using tariffs isn’t going to start a trade war. There’s been a war on working people for decades, and we have been getting our butts kicked. Just look at southwestern Pennsylvania if you want proof.'"

Enforcement: The Forgotten Piece of U.S. Trade Policy: "Through tariffs on imported steel and aluminum announced last week, President Trump may inadvertently begin to restore the balance we last saw in U.S. trade policy five decades ago. When John F. Kennedy signed the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, he heaped praise upon AFL-CIO President George Meany for labor’s support of the sweeping trade law. It would be one of the final instances in which a president and unions stood together on trade policy, and with good reason."

Women Deserve a Raise: "Today is International Women’s Day, and there is no better time to lift up the role unions play in achieving economic equality for women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently released a brief, titled The Union Advantage for Women, which quantifies the benefits of union membership for working women, and the numbers don’t lie!"

Remembering Memphis: "February marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, a unionization attempt by public-sector workers that drew support from civil and labor rights leaders across the nation. Martin Luther King Jr., in town to organize a march in support of those strikers, was assassinated on April 4 of that year. This post commemorates these anniversaries and the historic links between civil rights and workers' rights, especially at a time when the right of public-sector workers to unionize is being argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. This post is excerpted from a forthcoming memoir, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, by civil rights and labor activists Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill."

A Change Is Coming: In the States Roundup: "It's time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states."

Trumka Celebrates Pope Francis' Fifth Anniversary: "Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' election, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the pontiff’s leadership and legacy, in an event at Seton Hall University. He was joined by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark; Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey; and Mary Meehan, Ph.D., interim president of Seton Hall, each of whom delivered remarks to commemorate the Holy Father's leadership of the Roman Catholic Church."

Don’t Let Wall Street Profiteers Scare You: Trade Enforcement ≠ Trade War: "The steel and aluminum industries have been under attack by predatory trade practices. For too long, elected official have talked about the problem, but taken little action. Now that the president has announced he plans to support U.S. producers and their employees, Wall Street, multinational corporations and the elected officials who do their bidding around the world are freaking out. Should you be worried? Here is what you need to know."

The 15th Annual WILD Conference: Bridging the Divide for Workplace Safety: "The 15th annual Women in Leadership Development (WILD) Conference in New Jersey brought together more than 300 union sisters from all sectors of organized labor, demonstrating the strength of our sisterhood and labor unity. From March 2–3, 2018, participants joined in discussions critical to ensuring respect, dignity and safety at the workplace. Of course, WILD wouldn’t be complete without providing the latest insights into building leadership skills and applying those strategies and tools to strengthen our collective voice."

The Awesomeness of 'Black Panther': Union Made: "Wow, the 'Black Panther' movie was awesome, wasn't it? And while we could spend hours about how great an action movie it is or how beautiful it looks or the social implications of the themes and representation of African culture, let's take a few minutes to look behind the scenes at the work it took to bring a movie like 'Black Panther' to life, work done by union members."

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 03/12/2018 - 12:13

Economy Gains 313,000 Jobs in February, Unemployment Unchanged at 4.1%

Fri, 2018-03-09 12:43
Economy Gains 313,000 Jobs in February, Unemployment Unchanged at 4.1%

The U.S. economy gained 313,000 jobs in February, and unemployment was unchanged at 4.1%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This continues the recovery of the labor market at a tempered rate, which means the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee should continue to let the economy grow and not raise interest rates.

In response to the February jobs numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

Payroll employment jumps by 313,000 in February, but unemployment rate flat at 4.1% . Labor force participation near flat from last year. But, white and Black labor force participation are now virtually equal at 63.0% for whites and 62.9% for Blacks. @AFLCIO @APRI_National

— William E. Spriggs (@WSpriggs) March 9, 2018

Before Fed hawks start sharpening their talons for their interest rate hikes, nominal wages only rose by 2.6% over last year. This makes January's wage hike an anomalous blip, not a trend. @AFLCIO #JobsReport

— William E. Spriggs (@WSpriggs) March 9, 2018

The broadest measure of unemployment (including involuntary part-time and discouraged workers) stops it fall toward reaching its low in 2000. Another reason the Fed can slow up on rate hikes. @AFLCIO #JobsReport

— William E. Spriggs (@WSpriggs) March 9, 2018

Reasons for Fed caution: part time for Economic reason jumped 293,000 in February because of slack work at the job; over the year Temp Service employment up 120,500 over the year--workers still searching for stability. @AFLCIO #jobsreport

— William E. Spriggs (@WSpriggs) March 9, 2018

Because Black and white Labor force participation rates are now equal, it means the unemployment rates are now fully comparable. Black unemployment is 6.9% compared to 3.7% for whites. So, this gap characterizes inequality in the job market.

— William E. Spriggs (@WSpriggs) March 9, 2018

Last month's biggest job gains were in construction (61,000), retail trade employment (50,000), professional and business services (50,000), manufacturing (31,000), financial activities (28,000), health care (19,000) and mining (9,000). Employment in other major industries, including wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for blacks decreased (6.9%). The jobless rates for teenagers (14.4%), Hispanics (4.9%), adult women (3.8%), adult men (3.7%), whites (3.7%) and Asians (2.9%) showed little change.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed in February and accounted for 20.7% of the unemployed.

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 03/09/2018 - 11:43

West Virginia: When We Fight Together, We Win Together

Fri, 2018-03-09 11:02
West Virginia: When We Fight Together, We Win Together #55 Strong

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation Tuesday giving all state employees a 5% pay raise, the direct result of a heroic teacher strike that lasted nearly two weeks and highlighted the plight of low pay and rising health care costs in the Mountain State.

The victory for teachers and public employees in West Virginia is a true testament to their activism and an important reminder of the power of working people to improve the lives of everyone. Whether it is raising pay, providing quality health care or making our jobs safer, all workers know that when we join together and fight together, we will win together.

Nothing is more important to our future than the quality of our children’s education. Teachers are the backbone of the education system and deserve the resources needed to inspire the next generation. A top-tier education, in West Virginia and across America, requires top-tier talent—and that requires an investment in our teachers. That is why the AFL-CIO’s 12.5 million working men and women and the entire labor movement are proud to stand with the brave teachers in West Virginia.

AFT-West Virginia President Christine Campbell said:

This is a huge victory and symbol of respect for every teacher and school support staff member in the state of West Virginia. Thousands of educators and their supporters came to the state Capitol for the last week to ensure the public and the legislature understand how important their jobs are and that they have been underpaid and undervalued. The strike and its strong outcome should be seen as a shot across the bow to every lawmaker who may underestimate the support teachers have, the hard job they do and their willingness to stand up for what they deserve as they educate the next generation.

National AFT President Randi Weingarten said:

West Virginia has a long history of labor activism—where right often met might. Today, right beat might in the truest tradition of Mother Jones. That victory is a testament to the voice and determination, the resilience and compassion, and the collective power and organizing of the educators of this state. The governor and the Legislature heard, finally, and acted, we are grateful for that. 

While the strike has been front-page news for days, what was missed was that, for months, educators and school personnel were having conversations with one another—on Facebook, in-person—about the issues they were facing and what to do about them. By the time the decision to strike was made, workers were united in their demand for action, the unions were together in solidarity, and parents and community members were there to support them. Teachers and their unions even ensured that our strike and disaster relief funds could be used to feed the students in the state who get breakfast and lunch at school.

Make no mistake, the attacks on working people aren’t just happening in the classroom or on the job, they’re happening in the Supreme Court and in the state legislatures around the country. But teachers and support personnel in West Virginia showed that, as corporate and right-wing interests try to thwart our voice even more, we will rise up. If you push us to the brink, we will fight for ourselves, our families and our students. We want to teach. We want to do this job, and we proved it during this strike. This isn’t the end of the battle; teachers are still not paid well enough, and they still don’t have enough resources. But in West Virginia, lawmakers were put on notice that they needed to act in the best interests of kids and workers, not for special interests. And if they didn’t learn that lesson through this strike, workers will make sure they do in November.

Here are some other key tweets from the strike and the teachers' victory:

Statement from @RichardTrumka regarding public school teachers striking in WV. #55strong

— AFL-CIO (@AFLCIO) March 6, 2018


This feels like a big moment because it is a big moment. The entire country watched as WV showed the power of a union. #55Strong #55United

— AFT (@AFTunion) March 6, 2018

Day 3 of the West Virginia teachers strike, looking stronger than ever. #55strong @AFTWV @unionveterans

— AFL-CIO (@AFLCIO) February 26, 2018

So the teachers of West Virginia just got the state to give ALL state employees a 5% raise. Not just teachers, but everyone. #55Strong #55United

— Asher Huey (@asherhuey) March 6, 2018


Update: a student-organized rally on the Capitol steps has drawn another huge crowd. They’re planning to march #55Strong #55strong #wvteachers

— Scott Heins (@scottheins) March 2, 2018

Every teacher I know works a second or third job besides teaching. #55strong teachers on strike in West Virginia today.

— AFL-CIO (@AFLCIO) February 26, 2018


I miss my students. I was ready to go back tomorrow. But, we are #55united, #55strong. We are staying out so we can keep teaching and stay in WV, so we don't have to leave the profession or the state to make enough to get by. I'll see my students on the picket line!

— Emily Helton (@MsHeltonReads) March 1, 2018


For those who still think our teachers don’t care, this was sent to me during the work stoppage. Just another example of the selflessness and dedication our teachers put in. Thank you Mrs. Loughman and all teachers/ faculty members as JMHS. #55strong @JMHSMonarchs

— Jenni Whitfield (@whitfield_jenni) March 1, 2018

The line to the WV state capitol is half a mile long this morning as teachers show up for dignity. #1u @AFTunion @AFTWV

— AFL-CIO (@AFLCIO) February 23, 2018


Teachers, we are with you. We love you, we appreciate you. We are PROUD of you. We are watching your strength and taking notes. You are not selfish. You deserve more. This is long overdue, and you are demonstrating absolute grace.
With love and support, hang in there #55strong

— Jillian Cheek (@jillian_cheek) February 27, 2018


I have never been more proud than I am today after this incredible victory. So humbled to be a part of @AFTWV. In awe of this uprising. It turned into a movement that America is taking notice of. We will always win when we are united. #55Strong

— Bob Brown (@bob_brown9838) March 7, 2018 Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 03/09/2018 - 10:02

Women Deserve a Raise

Thu, 2018-03-08 12:57
Women Deserve a Raise IWPR

Today is International Women’s Day, and there is no better time to lift up the role unions play in achieving economic equality for women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently released a brief, titled The Union Advantage for Women, which quantifies the benefits of union membership for working women, and the numbers don’t lie!

IWPR estimates that the typical union woman makes a whopping 30% more per week than her nonunion sister. The benefits of unions are greatest for women of color, who otherwise face stronger economic barriers than their white counterparts. Latina union members make an estimated 47% more than Latinas who are not union members, and the union wage premium for black women is about 28%. For comparison, the union difference for men overall is not as large; union men make about 20% more than nonunion men.

So what’s behind the union advantage? When working women come together (and with our male allies), we are able to bargain for the wages we deserve, robust benefits, and respect and dignity on the job. Outside of the workplace, unions fight for state and local policies such as paid sick leave, family and medical leave insurance, fair schedules, and raising the minimum wage—all which disproportionately benefit women and their families.

Ladies, we deserve a raise! And it starts with a voice and power on the job.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/08/2018 - 11:57

Remembering Memphis

Wed, 2018-03-07 18:39
Remembering Memphis AFL-CIO

February marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, a unionization attempt by public-sector workers that drew support from civil and labor rights leaders across the nation. Martin Luther King Jr., in town to organize a march in support of those strikers, was assassinated on April 4 of that year. This post commemorates these anniversaries and the historic links between civil rights and workers' rights, especially at a time when the right of public-sector workers to unionize is being argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. This post is excerpted from a forthcoming memoir, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, by civil rights and labor activists Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill.

Even as a young man, A. Philip Randolph understood that the economic well-being of workers and the political rights of African Americans were inextricably linked. It is one of the reasons why, in the 1920s, he agreed to organize and operate the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black-led labor union to receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor.

It was his recognition of this coalescence of black economic and political interests that led him to threaten the first march on Washington in the 1940s; which was only preempted when President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to issue Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in civil service and World War II defense industries. And it was why he named the iconic 1963 march on Washington, which he organized and led, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The complete title wasn't an accident. Randolph understood that the economic component was essential in obtaining freedom and equality for black people.

It was, therefore, clearly logical that in 1968, as the new associate director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, APRI, I was sent to Tennessee to help the workers, most of them black, engaged in the Memphis Sanitation Strike. It was a classic nexus of the promise of the civil rights movement and the American labor movement; a logical co-mingling of race and work in the context of a democratic nation.

At the 1961 AFL-CIO Convention, King warned that black people should be skeptical of anti-union forces, noting that the "labor-hater and race-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other."

On Feb. 11, 1968, a group of 1,300 almost exclusively black sanitation workers walked off of their jobs. For years, they had suffered through low pay and horrendously dangerous, racially-tainted working conditions. When two sanitation workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning garbage truck that month, the workers had enough. They launched boycotts and protests with placards that are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, declaring that "I Am A Man."

I was sent to assist the staff of AFSCME as it tried to organize these beleaguered sanitation workers. The city’s mayor had refused to speak with the workers, calling their strike illegal. In the meantime, thousands of tons of garbage piled up on the streets of Memphis—despite scab workers who crossed the picket lines.

I was not the only outside help to gather in Memphis in those early months of 1968. Bayard Rustin (Randolph’s right hand and executive director of APRI), Roy Wilkins (the executive secretary of the NAACP) and James Lawson Jr. (a leading civil rights movement theoretician and tactician) were also there. Each visibly supporting the strikers as the national media swooped in and splashed this struggle all over America’s newspapers; the coverage seemed to crackle over radio and television everywhere.

Then, on March 18 (against the counsel of his inner circle), King famously arrived in Memphis to offer his support to the strikers. That evening, he addressed an enormous gathering of 25,000 strike supporters. Ten days later, he led a demonstration that went terribly wrong when some protesters turned to violence, smashing store windows, looting and inviting city police to respond with billy clubs and tear gas. A black 16-year-old, Larry Payne, was shot and killed by police during the melee. City officials estimated that more than 20,000 students skipped school that day.

I was there. That march started at a black church, the Clayborn Temple at Hernando Street and Pontotoc Avenue. King was at the head of the march and I was close behind him. As we marched through the black community, we could see people lining the streets in support. The white people we saw at that time seemed neutral to our cause. I can’t say I sensed any hostility toward any of us. Then suddenly I smelled the bite of tear gas. I turned quickly and looked back. I could see young black men throwing stones at the storefronts we were passing. At first, the police seemed to be focused on these violent youth. But in short order, they were spraying tear gas indiscriminately at all of us.

The gas was suffocating. It burned the rims of my eyes and was reaching down my throat. I could taste it and, with it, I could taste defeat. It was a crushing setback. At first, King was hurried into a car and taken to a nearby hotel. But eventually, he and other march leaders decided to turn the march around and head back to Clayborn Temple. It was the right thing to do. I could see that King was very upset, distraught and depressed. He seemed so disappointed, saying that he had experienced tear gas before, but never as a result of demonstrators losing their resolve and self-discipline.

Once we returned to the church, King joined us and practically fell silent. When he did speak it was to urge the protesters to be peaceful and non-violent. Before long, he told the demonstrators that the march was over and that everyone should leave quickly and in an orderly fashion.

But some of us stayed, mostly members of AFSCME and staffers from King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). We urged King to lead a second march, one in early April. We argued that the strike was part of a larger trade union struggle and that national labor leaders could be recruited to help maintain discipline for the second march.

King was hesitant; you could see it in his eyes and read it in his manner. He wanted to explore other ways to support the sanitation workers, but eventually he came around. He left Memphis. I, along with the AFSCME and SCLC staff members, including Bill Lucy, Jesse Epps and P.J. Champa, went to the city’s black ministers to solicit their support for the second march. The ministers embraced the plan right away and pledged to urge their congregations to do the same.

We organized an outreach effort, creating and passing out leaflets supporting the new march wherever we knew black people gathered, like supermarkets and barbershops. We were also able to enlist the support of the black members of the Memphis City Council.

On April 3, King returned to the city. Despite the fact that he was not feeling well, he got out of bed to speak to a gathering at Clayborn Temple. And while history remembers well that this would be his last public speech, the one in which he spoke of reaching "the mountaintop" and being able to see "the promised land," but, like Moses, being fearful that he would not be allowed to reach it. He also spoke directly to the striking sanitation workers: "We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end," he said. "Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through."

It was a magnificent moment. It was the old King again. I had worked with him before, going back, of course, to helping Randolph and Rustin organize the March on Washington in 1963, and Velma and I meeting with him and other civil rights leaders trying to help King decide whether to take on segregation in the Midwest in the summer of 1965. And there was his six-city, get-out-the-vote tour in 1964 that I helped to coordinate for him through the Midwest and Northeast when I worked for the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department.

So, I was in Memphis on April 4, about to attend an early evening meeting of strike supporters when I got word that King had been shot. Like millions around the world who would learn of this searing tragedy, I was stunned. I rushed by car to the Lorraine Motel where I knew he and his aides were staying.

All I found were police, sobbing activists and onlookers, and steps where King’s blood trailed from the balcony where the nation’s prophet of peace had been slain. I saw that balcony where King fell, it was still stained with his blood that had pooled and ran off of the side like a crimson rain.


I had to talk to my wife Velma. I found a phone and called her. There was no one else in this world I could truly turn to, to help me make sense of this staggering act of horrific violence, of sickening hatred—not simply for one man, but for an entire race. My race.

In less than two weeks, the strike was over. The second march, with Rustin playing a role in its coordination, did take place on April 8. In the wake of King’s assassination, the march played a dual role, becoming a memorial to the monumental man, as well as a show of continued support for the striking sanitation workers. Some 40,000 people participated, including King’s brave widow, Coretta Scott King. There were no incidents.

While Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb continued to oppose the unionization of the sanitation workers, in the end, his opposition was overridden by the city council that felt the pressure from mounting constituent complaints about tons of garbage reeking in their streets.


Yet, on the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, organized labor faces new and powerful challenges. For example, the case of Janus v. AFSCME, which the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up, raises whether unions have the fundamental right to expect public workers they represent to pay union dues. The matter is likely to be decided this year. The implications of a decision, for obvious reasons, could be profound regarding public sector unions like, for instance, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Teachers, affecting millions of workers.

In response to a White House and far right that appears determined to not only turn back the clock—but break it—regarding organized labor in America, arises a new necessity. We must, following the example of Randolph and King, harness an emerging coalition of progressive forces that today must include not only traditional civil rights and labor groups, but also Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo and related women’s movements.

At the same time, demonstrations of this collective power must be felt at the ballot box nationwide, especially as midterm elections draw near.

Randolph left us an indelible blueprint for action when he said: "At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can't take anything, you won't get anything, and if you can't hold anything, you won't keep anything. And you can't take anything without organization."

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 03/07/2018 - 17:39

A Change Is Coming: In the States Roundup

Wed, 2018-03-07 13:42
A Change Is Coming: In the States Roundup North Carolina AFL-CIO

It's time once again to take a look at the ways working people are making progress in the states. Click on any of the links to follow the state federations and central labor councils on Twitter.

Arizona AFL-CIO:

Looking forward to seeing you all at the AZ AFL-CIO Day of Action on Monday March 12th! Come and join us for...

— Arizona AFL-CIO (@ArizonaAFLCIO) March 6, 2018

Arkansas AFL-CIO:
The plaintiffs argue Act 10 violates free speech and free association under the First Amendment. #1u #organize #southhasmovednorth #iuoe

— Arkansas AFL-CIO (@ArkansasAFLCIO) March 6, 2018

California Labor Federation:

Today is the beginning of #WomensHistoryMonth. We wouldn't have a movement if it were not for women of yesterday, women of today, and women of tomorrow. Our struggle for equality marches on and we celebrate and honor women who fought for what we have today✊

Trumka Celebrates Pope Francis' Fifth Anniversary

Wed, 2018-03-07 12:11
Trumka Celebrates Pope Francis' Fifth Anniversary AFL-CIO

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' election, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the pontiff’s leadership and legacy, in an event at Seton Hall University. He was joined by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark; Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey; and Mary Meehan, Ph.D., interim president of Seton Hall, each of whom delivered remarks to commemorate the Holy Father's leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

Trumka said: "Pope Francis reminds us that our fate as a labor movement, our strength and our solidarity grows from our choice to be reborn in the defense of our neediest brothers and sisters. Today, only one in 10 of America’s workers has the ability to bargain collectively with our employers through a union. Yet our labor movement defends the other nine workers every day."

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech added: "Our labor movement depends on having faith in one another, and there is much that religion can teach us about coming together in common purpose and mutual respect. The history of our labor movement is closely intertwined with the values of faith and, thanks to the leadership of Pope Francis, Cardinal Tobin and the New Jersey religious community, that bond is as strong as ever."

More of Trumka's remarks from the commemoration:

Five years ago, Pope Francis was elected to the papacy. From his first moments as pope, he ministered to a world deeply hurt by the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath—where it seemed at every turn working people paid the price for unmitigated greed on Wall Street. Pope Francis came to Rome from South America to preach to a world in which many millions had been fundamentally marginalized and forgotten—facing the loss of jobs, the foreclosure of homes, the burdens of sickness and old age without adequate security, and the trauma of homelessness. The people of the global south suffered the most endemic and desperate situations...extreme poverty and total exclusion from the fabric of society. In his every act, Pope Francis extended an elegant and simple message: "You are not alone...."

All around us people are appealing to our worst selves, baiting us to fear and hate anyone who seems on the surface to be different. Voices sowing division and distrust tell us to admire the thief, the con man, the bully and to look down on humble workers...nurses, teachers, ironworkers and sheriff’s deputies. When Pope Francis says solidarity is our word, his message contradicts the morality adopted by so many of the world’s wealthy and powerful. His message is an affront to selfishness. It breaks isolation. It welcomes the outcast. It exposes the illusion and reveals the truth, which is that we are bound together by love, and we must care for each other and our world....

The labor movement is resolved to fight for and win collective bargaining for all of America’s workers, because, like Pope Francis, we believe the poor must be the agents of their own development. The future of humanity does not belong to the elites and the powerful, but to all of us and our ability to organize for a fair piece of the pie. We will defend our democracy against those who urge us to hate and fear, and who say greed will answer our need. It will not and cannot. And we will see to it that the gains of technology are shared among all.

Read Trumka's full remarks.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 03/07/2018 - 11:11

Don’t Let Wall Street Profiteers Scare You: Trade Enforcement ≠ Trade War

Tue, 2018-03-06 09:33
Don’t Let Wall Street Profiteers Scare You: Trade Enforcement ≠ Trade War

The steel and aluminum industries have been under attack by predatory trade practices. For too long, elected official have talked about the problem, but taken little action. Now that the president has announced he plans to support U.S. producers and their employees, Wall Street, multinational corporations and the elected officials who do their bidding around the world are freaking out. Should you be worried? Here is what you need to know.


1. Wall Street is used to getting its way on U.S. trade and economic policy. It lobbied hard to get the United States to do nothing in the face of unfair global steel and aluminium practices. But it lost. Its frantic reaction is more like a toddler’s tantrum than a reasonable policy argument. 


2. Wall Street is hoping that scare tactics, like calling ordinary enforcement of trade laws "a trade war," will stop the president from following through on his promises. That may be good for CEOs, but not for ordinary families.

Wall Street is also ignoring the fact that ensuring that the U.S. has robust steel and aluminum industries is a national security issue. Allowing foreign companies to exploit the trade system at the expense of our security is a bad deal.  
A weak manufacturing sector is a bigger threat to our national security than a few tariffs.


3. Wall Street has been doing great in recent decades, some of the stock price increases have come at the expense of America’s steel and aluminum producers and their employees. Since 2000, the United States has lost more than 25% of its basic oxygen furnace steel facilities.

Boyd County, Kentucky, has lost both Kentucky Electric Steel and AK Steel. Lorain, Ohio, has lost Republic Steel and a line at U.S. Steel Corp. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, lost ArcelorMittal’s plate rolling mill. The list goes on and on and on.


4. Any time plants or lines shut down, workers lose jobs. Those who remain employed usually face wage and benefit cuts. Plant closures hurt small firms that provide services to the steel mills and hurt communities that rely on economic activity to fund roads, parks, libraries and other important public services.

Enforcing trade laws is necessary to leveling the playing field—and long overdue. If you can’t enforce the laws, what is the point of having them?


5. The bottom line is that trade enforcement isn’t a trade war. Wall Street is concerned about stock prices, not the welfare of America’s working families. Rather than fearing a trade war, we should be more afraid of why U.S. trade rules have been written for the benefit of global corporations in recent years.


6. America’s working families don’t want a trade war, we want a fair economy. We want to be sure that global corporations don’t write rigged rules and don’t prevent trade enforcement. We want trade rules that protect our freedoms and allows us to join together and negotiate for better, no matter what country we live in or what industry we work in.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 03/06/2018 - 08:33


The 15th Annual WILD Conference: Bridging the Divide for Workplace Safety

Mon, 2018-03-05 15:13
The 15th Annual WILD Conference: Bridging the Divide for Workplace Safety New Jersey AFL-CIO

The 15th annual Women in Leadership Development (WILD) Conference in New Jersey brought together more than 300 union sisters from all sectors of organized labor, demonstrating the strength of our sisterhood and labor unity. From March 2–3, 2018, participants joined in discussions critical to ensuring respect, dignity and safety at the workplace. Of course, WILD wouldn’t be complete without providing the latest insights into building leadership skills and applying those strategies and tools to strengthen our collective voice.

The atmosphere of unity and sisterhood was remarkable as both first-time and longtime WILD sisters joined together to listen, learn and lead in the fight to strengthen our labor movement and nation. Our conference was honored to welcome a distinguished panel of speakers, along with the extraordinarily talented SCREAM (Students Challenging Realities and Educating Against Myths) Theater student troupe at Rutgers University, for an interactive performance, challenging realities and educating against myths pertaining to workplace safety.

On Friday evening, Queen Mary University of London professors Gill Kirton and Geraldine Healy, accomplished educators and researchers in the fields of women, work, leadership and public policy, shared reflections on women’s labor leadership in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world. They also reflected on experiences from the 2009 U.S.-U.K. exchange.

On Saturday, participants were treated to a thought-provoking discussion and performance by the SCREAM Theater student troupe, facilitated by Ruth Anne Koenick and Brady Root. Koenick is a part-time lecturer at the Rutgers School of Social Work, who has worked in the field of anti-violence against women and children for more than 45 years and is the founder and past director of the Rutgers Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA). Root is the Prevention Education coordinator for VPVA, as well as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers for courses on public speaking, special topics in bystander intervention and human ecology.

New Jersey State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan said that "WILD brings a multifaceted approach to leadership development, through interactive education, mentorship and enduring networks of solidarity, and every year we are proud to add new layers to this foundation that reflect our changing culture and political environment."

The New Jersey State AFL-CIO is the only state federation in the nation to host an annual women’s leadership conference. We thank our WILD sisters and sponsors for their many years of support, enabling our state to champion a diverse, strong and durable union movement.

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 03/05/2018 - 14:13

The Awesomeness of 'Black Panther': Union Made

Thu, 2018-03-01 11:51
The Awesomeness of 'Black Panther': Union Made AFL-CIO

Wow, the "Black Panther" movie was awesome, wasn't it? And while we could spend hours about how great an action movie it is or how beautiful it looks or the social implications of the themes and representation of African culture, let's take a few minutes to look behind the scenes at the work it took to bring a movie like "Black Panther" to life, work done by union members.

Let's start with the cast of superb performers such as Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya and many others. They are among the group of 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcaster journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voice-over artists and other media professionals who are members of SAG-AFTRA.

The screenplay, one of the better writing jobs ever done for a superhero movie, was written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, members of Writers Guild of America West, which represents thousands of writers who create content for television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation and the web.

If you waited around to see the post-credits surprise that Marvel movies offer, just before the last scene starts, you might notice the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) logo. That's because a wide range of jobs on a movie set are filled by IATSE members, including art directors, costume designers, make-up artists, hairstylists, studio lighting technicians, set painters and script supervisors. In other words, all the people who made one of the most beautiful films in recent memory are IATSE members. That goes for the visual images on the screen as well, as the International Cinematographers Guild is an affiliate of IATSE. So are the more than 7,200 members of the Motion Picture Editors Guild and the members of the Animation Guild who create not only animated films, but the visual effects in movies like "Black Panther," too.

Other roles on movie sets also are filled with union members—from Electrical Workers (IBEW) to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) to Laborers (LIUNA)—everywhere you look on set, you find working people who have joined together in union to negotiate a fair return for their work. Work that entertains and informs millions.

And there is actually more. From the drivers, couriers and animal handlers of the Teamsters union to the filmmakers represented in the Directors Guild of America, the working people on a big movie set like "Black Panther" know that their collective voice not only protects their rights and their livelihood, but gives them leverage in bringing such great entertainment to the rest of the world.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/01/2018 - 10:51

'All I Could Think About Was My Friend Was Gone'

Thu, 2018-03-01 11:49
'All I Could Think About Was My Friend Was Gone' AFL-CIO

Augusta Thomas and two of her teenage friends had their hearts set on a game of Chinese checkers. But "Little Martin" balked.

They needed four to play, explained the Louisville-born Thomas. At age 85, she’s still on the job as vice president for women and fair practices with the AFGE in Washington, D.C.

"We had to take turns putting the coal and the wood in the furnace in the cellar and it was 'Little Martin’s' time to do it," she said, grinning and eyes twinkling. "So when he went down, I locked the door."

The impasse lasted half an hour before "Little Martin" relented and agreed to play. "But let me tell you what," Thomas said, her grin broadening. "I got punished when I got home."

Her "prisoner" was 17-year-old Martin Luther King Jr.

Thomas shared her story in a speech at Saturday’s Working People’s Day of Action rally in Louisville, where she was born and has lived most of her life. Though her job is in Washington, she keeps an apartment in her hometown, which is Kentucky’s largest city.

The crowd of union members, families and friends repeatedly interrupted Thomas’ remarks with cheers and loud applause.

When Thomas was 13, she went to Atlanta to live with her aunt and uncle, Minnie and the Rev. William Rowe. He was a Methodist minister and colleague of the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., a Baptist pastor.

"The pastors would meet at Little Martin’s house," Thomas expanded on the story after her speech. "It had a parlor—we called it a living room. That’s where the ministers would go. 'Little Martin' would always sit by the door listening to what they were saying."

King and Thomas attended David T. Howard School. She returned to Louisville and graduated from Central Colored High School. She also went to Atlanta’s Clark University and the Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in St. Louis.

Thomas, one of the country’s oldest union officers, was a civil rights activist before she was a labor activist.

In 1960, she journeyed to Greensboro, North Carolina, to join the historic lunch counter sit-ins. Angry whites spit on her and knocked her off a stool. Police arrested her twice.

Meanwhile, "Little Martin" had grown up, followed his father into the ministry and was helping lead the growing civil rights movement.

Thomas joined AFGE on Nov. 12, 1966, her first day on the job at the Veterans Administration hospital in Louisville. She and King crossed paths again in Memphis in April of 1968.

He was in the city to support 1,300 African American sanitation workers who went on strike after two members of a garbage truck crew, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed on the job. Seeking shelter from a rainstorm, they climbed into the back of their truck and were crushed to death when the trash compactor malfunctioned.

For decades, black sanitation department employees like Cole and Walker had worked long hours at low pay in dangerous conditions. All the while, they endured virulent racial prejudice in Jim Crow Memphis.

Thomas blamed the deaths of Cole and Walker on "the racism and negativism of the city officials who treated them less than human, who ignored the workers' call for safety and who paid them poverty wages." The workers also wanted a union.

As a result, "Thirteen hundred of our brothers and sisters rose up, risked everything and went to strike for dignity and justice, using four simple words—powerful words—'I am a man.'"

Ultimately, the city gave in, improved salaries and safety standards and recognized the union, AFSCME Local 1733.

King did not live to see the union victory. He was assassinated on April 4.

Thomas and five other women from different Falls City unions had gone to Memphis to stand in solidarity with the strikers. They checked into first floor rooms at the Lorraine Motel. King was staying on the second floor.

The women were in their rooms when James Earl Ray, a racist white man, killed King with a rifle shot. King was standing on a second-floor balcony.

Thomas and her union sisters heard the gunfire. "We thought it was firecrackers, and we just ignored it," Thomas said.

The motel manager, fearing for their safety, rushed Thomas and the other women to the Peacock Hotel. "He told the manager of the Peacock Hotel, 'Do not let these women leave this hotel.'"

They turned on the TV and saw news reports of the slaying. "The manager couldn’t keep us," Thomas said. "We had to go back to the Lorraine. But we could only go so far, and all I could think about was my friend was gone."

The night before, Thomas and the women who came with her from Louisville joined the crowd at Bishop Mason Temple church where King spoke.

His last address, went down in history as the "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" speech.

"When he was making that speech, I had chills running down me," Thomas said after the rally. "But I didn’t get to talk to him."

In her remarks, Thomas quoted from the ringing conclusion of King’s famous speech: "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Thomas admonished the crowd: "We’ve got to get to the mountaintop. We have got to work together. We’ve got to get rid of '45' and some of those folks up on that hill in Washington, D.C."

She added, "They’re running scared. We won Alabama. We won Virginia….They are afraid they are going to lose November 2018, and we’re going to make sure they do."

Continued Thomas: "The future of working people hangs in the balance right now. As a woman, I have seen all we have worked for inside and outside the workplace. Women are more equal on the unionized shop floor. As brothers and sisters, we bargain together to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

"By joining together in unions, women, particularly women of color, have gotten closer to true equality in the workplace. Equal pay, family-friendly leave and scheduling, and freedom from harassment. We must stand until we are all equals no matter our race, no matter our gender, no matter our class. We must stand together and demand an end to this rigged system so that we all may be truly free."

This post originally appeared at the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/01/2018 - 10:49

Time to Stop Tax Breaks for Outsourcing

Wed, 2018-02-28 15:18
Time to Stop Tax Breaks for Outsourcing

It makes little sense for the U.S. government to provide tax breaks to companies that outsource America's jobs, and yet the recently passed Republican tax law makes the problem worse, it doesn't solve it. That's why Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are introducing the "No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act."

About the legislation, Doggett said:

Let’s level the playing field for domestic companies by ensuring that multinationals pay the same tax rate on profits earned abroad as they do here at home. This legislation would set the minimum tax on the foreign profits of multinationals equal to the statutory corporate tax rate on domestic profits and apply that rate to a similar base. It would end discrimination against companies with mostly domestic sales by not advantaging multinationals with such a huge tax break on profits earned abroad.

More specifically, the bill would:

  • Equalize the tax rate on profits earned abroad to the tax rate on profits earned here at home. The new tax law allows companies to pay half of the statutory corporate tax rate on profits earned abroad, and for many it may be nothing or next to nothing. This legislation would end the preferential tax rate for offshore profits and ensure companies pay the same rate abroad as they do in the United States. This leveling of the playing field is achieved by eliminating the deductions for "global intangible low-tax income" and "foreign-derived intangible income."
  • Repeal the 10% tax exemption on profits earned from certain investments made overseas. In addition to the half-off tax rate on profits earned abroad, the new law exempts from tax entirely a 10% return on tangible investments made overseas, such as plants and equipment. This legislation would eliminate the zero-tax rate on certain investments made overseas.
  • Treat "foreign" corporations that are managed and controlled in the U.S. as domestic corporations. This provision would address the "Ugland House problem" of U.S. corporations nominally organizing in tax havens. Ugland House in the Cayman Islands is the five-story legal home of more than 18,000 companies, many of them really American companies in disguise. This section would treat corporations worth $50 million or more and managed and controlled within the United States as the U.S. entities they in fact are and subject them to the same tax as other U.S. taxpayers.
  • Crack down on inversions by tightening the definition of expatriated entity. This provision would discourage corporations from renouncing their U.S. citizenship. It would deem any merger between a U.S. company and a smaller foreign firm to be a U.S. taxpayer, no matter where in the world the new company claims to be headquartered. Specifically, the combined company would continue to be treated as a domestic corporation if the historic shareholders of the U.S. company own more than 50% of the new entity. If the new entity is managed and controlled in the United States and continues to conduct significant business here, it would continue to be treated as a domestic company regardless of the percentage ownership.
  • Combat earnings stripping by restricting the deduction for interest expense for multinational enterprises with excess domestic indebtedness. Multinationals often shrink their U.S. tax bills by paying interest to their foreign-based subsidiaries. Recognizing this injustice, the House Republican tax bill originally prohibited it, as then-President Barack Obama had recommended in his proposed budget. Deductible interest should be limited based on the U.S. subsidiary’s proportionate share of the multinational’s net interest expense, reflecting the underlying business reality. Unable to withstand lobbying pressure, Republicans abandoned this correction. This bill would restore it.

The legislation already has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, AFGE, AFSCME, the Alliance for Retired Americans, Communications Workers of America (CWA), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), UAW, Working America, American Family Voices, Americans for Democratic Action, Americans for Tax Fairness, Campaign for America’s Future, Coalition on Human Needs, Credo, Economic Policy Institute Policy Center, the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Main Street Alliance, MomsRising, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Other98, Oxfam America, Patriotic Millionaires, People Demanding Action, Progressive Congress Action Fund, Public Citizen and Small Business Majority.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 02/28/2018 - 14:18

Tags: Tax Reform

The AFT Has Long Been an Advocate for African Americans

Wed, 2018-02-28 10:05
The AFT Has Long Been an Advocate for African Americans

In celebration of Black History Month this year, we'd like to take a look at the important role that one of the most influential groups of working people in the United States has had in the fight for equality for African Americans—teachers. From its beginning in 1916, the AFT has been on the forefront of organizations fighting for equality for African Americans in the U.S.

AFT formed in 1916 in Chicago. It was one of the first educational organizations to allow African American members. In 1918, the federation called for equal pay for African American teachers, the election of African Americans to local school boards and for compulsory school attendance for African American children. Before it had even held its second convention, AFT issued its ninth local charter to the all-black Armstrong-Dunbar High School teachers in Washington, D.C. The AFT newsletter at the time welcomed the new members gladly, noting that black teachers "were especially in need of whatever assistance could be given not only to the teachers themselves, but to the development of educational opportunities…throughout the country."

In 1919, AFT called for equal educational opportunities for African American children. The next year, it formally petitioned Congress to drastically improve funding for Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. A decade later, it called for the social, political, economic and cultural contributions of African Americans to be taught in public schools. Beginning in the 1930s, AFT started refusing to hold its conventions in locations that were segregated or discriminated against African Americans. The 1938 convention in Cincinnati was moved after the convention hotel required black participants to use the freight elevators. In 1963, AFT moved its entire convention out of Florida, where it was scheduled to be, so its members didn't have to travel and lodge in the Jim Crow South.

In the 1950s, AFT got even more aggressive in pursuing racial equality. It stopped chartering segregated locals in 1951 and, in 1953, amended its constitution to say, "No charter of the AFT, which defines or recognizes jurisdiction on the basis of race or color, or permits the practice of such jurisdiction, shall be recognized as valid, and the practice of any such local in limiting its membership on account of race or color shall render its charter void." When Brown v. Board of Education came before the Supreme Court in 1954, AFT was the only education organization to file an amicus brief on behalf of desegregating schools. Three years later, AFT expelled all locals that refused to desegregate, even though this meant the loss of more than 7,000 members.

During the 1960s, AFT ran more than 20 Freedom Schools in the South to supplement the inadequate education offered to African American students. In 1963, AFT actively supported the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and continued to support the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. In 1965, it supported the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as part of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty. After supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, AFT lobbied for the extension of the act in 1982, activating many members as volunteer support for the campaign. In the 1980s and beyond, while AFT would continue its efforts to support equality for African Americans outside the classroom, it also focused on improving opportunities inside the classroom. From educating teachers in a rapidly changing racial and social environment to seeking to close the black male education gap, AFT has been on the forefront of advocating for better education and opportunity for African Americans for 100 years.

In more recent years, the federation has focused on several key issues in its continued dedication to improving the lives of African American teachers and students:

  • Reducing suspension rates and breaking the school-to-prison pipeline for young black males.
  • Radically increasing the percentage of college- and career-ready young black males.
  • Developing culturally competent educators, student, and education systems.
  • Increasing access to educational opportunity—particularly early childhood education, career and technical education, and higher education.
  • Increasing access to and preparation for higher-paying jobs.
  • Addressing inequities in taxation and revenue-generating policies.
  • Incorporating restorative justice practices into school discipline codes.
  • Combating the culture of low expectations that often hampers students.
  • Keeping neighborhood schools intact and making them the focal point and heart of their communities.
  • Ensuring robust teaching environments by fighting the culture where testing replaces quality instruction.
  • Maintaining public funding for public schools and fighting for equitable funding.
  • Supporting struggling students by advocating for smaller class sizes and quality early childhood education programs.
  • Ensuring there is a quality teacher in every classroom.

These steps are part of a bigger picture and program that follows in the long tradition of America's teachers fighting on behalf of their African American colleagues and students.

Kenneth Quinnell Wed, 02/28/2018 - 09:05