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On Labor Day — And Every Day — Which Side Are You On?

Here’s a Labor Day quiz: Most Americans support unions, but only ten percent are union members. What gives?

Business leaders claim that American workers don’t want or need unions anymore. But a new Gallup poll reveals that Americans’ support for unions has been increasing — from 48 percent in 2009 to 64 percent today.

Researchers at MIT found that if nonunion workers who wanted to join a union could do so, union membership would skyrocket from its current 15 million to 70 million.

So why do unions have such a hard time recruiting new members? The answer is fear.

America’s labor laws are so stacked against workers that it is extremely difficult for even the most committed workers and talented organizers to win union elections. Big business spends big bucks hiring anti-union consultants. Employers can force workers to attend meetings that feature anti-union speeches, films and literature.

Try wearing a union button at a mandated Walmart employee meeting and see what happens.

Union organizers are banned from company property. To reach employees, they must visit their homes or hold secret meetings. One-third of all employers illegally fire at least one worker — typically union leaders — during union organizing drives, scaring other workers from joining the campaign. Federal penalties are so small that companies treat them as a minor cost of doing business.

The 30 years after World War II were the golden age of American capitalism. Prosperity was widely shared. Unions allowed many working people to achieve the American Dream. They could buy homes and cars, take vacations, send their kids to college, afford health insurance and retire with dignity.

Since the 1970s, union membership has plummeted from about one-quarter of all workers, to one-fifth in the 1980s, to one-tenth today.

Among private sector workers, union membership is now a dismal 6.4 percent. Big business’ assault on workers’ rights has had real consequences. Income inequality has widened, wages for working people have stagnated, the middle class has shrunk and American families are deeper in debt. Corporate profits have been climbing, but the share going to workers has not. A new report by the Economic Policy Institute found that from 1978 to 2018, CEO compensation grew by 940 percent, while workers’ wages increased by just 12 percent.

Although the national unemployment rate is below four percent, wages for most workers have not kept pace with the cost of living. Many American households work two or more jobs to make ends meet. (More than 60,000 grocery workers in Southern California, members of the United Food and Commercials Workers union, are currently in contract negotiations with major grocery chains, fighting the corporations’ attempt to slash wages, healthcare, and overtime. The union’s slogan: “One job should be enough”).

More than 35 percent of non-elderly adults in families with at least one worker report difficulty paying for basic needs such as shelter, food, and medical care.  Even one-fifth of school teachers need a second job to make ends meet. According to a report by the Federal Reserve, most American families don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency. Most of the fast-growing jobs are in low-paying industries.

Right-wing politicians and their corporate backers want unions completely crushed. The anti-union billionaire Koch brothers, for example, have spent tens of millions of dollars to support misnamed “right-to-work” laws designed to weaken organized labor and help elect anti-union Republicans. Right-to-work laws now exist in 27 states.

In its Janus decision last year, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 majority that workers who benefit from their public sector unions’ collective-bargaining efforts owe no obligation to financially support those unions. It’s like allowing people equal police and fire protection even though they refuse to pay taxes.

Despite his rhetoric about being a friend to the American worker, Donald Trump has consistently adopted policies that hurt working families. He has significantly reduced the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. He’s appointed anti-union members to the National Labor Relations Board, which under Trump has served as an ally to corporate America rather than a neutral arbiter of labor-management disputes. He has issued executive orders making it easier to fire federal workers and weaken their unions. He’s refused to support an increase in the federal minimum wage. He has weakened safety regulations for coal miners, farm workers, oil and gas drilling workers, and many others. He has reversed policies designed to prohibit federal government contracts to companies that consistently violate laws regarding workplace safety, wages, racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and workers’ right to unionize.

Despite efforts by corporate America and its political allies to undermine workers and their unions, the country has recently witnessed an upsurge of labor activism. Teachers, janitors, grocery clerks, hotel housekeepers, fast-food employees, warehouse employees, port truck drivers, maids and domestic workers, and others have been waging grassroots campaigns to improve pay and working conditions.

Hundreds of cities and many states have adopted minimum wage laws that raise pay far above the federal threshold of $7.25 (in place since 2009) and that help lift working families out of poverty. A growing number of cities and states have passed policies to require employees to provide paid family leave and to [schedules]. Seattle, Oakland, Long Beach and, last week, Santa Monica, adopted local laws that regulate working conditions for hotel housekeepers, including rules that protect them from sexual violence and burdensome workloads. In August 2018, Missouri voters rescinded a right-to-work law by a two-to-one margin.

We can see how this groundswell of activism, and changing public opinion about unions, is shaping the presidential election contest. Every Democratic candidate is promising to not only address the question of widening wealth and income equality but also to revamp federal laws to restore more power to ordinary workers. Sen. Kamara Harris has sponsored a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to extend labor protections (like minimum wages and over-time pay) to housekeepers and nannies. Several candidates have proposals to require corporations to give employees the right to elect representatives to the boards of directors.

Thirteen Democratic senators — including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker — have sponsored the Workplace Democracy Act. It would help union organizers by banning state right-to-work laws, providing “card check” provisions (similar to in Canada, where one-quarter of workers are in unions) that limit employer intimidation during union drives, and help exploited workers who are currently mis-categorized as “independent contractors.” Several candidates are backing a proposal from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to encourage labor and employers to bargain on an industry-wide basis rather than with each separate employer.

None of these proposals will pass unless Democrats win back the White House and both houses of Congress. A stronger union movement would not only mean better lives for working families but also provide support for progressive goals like universal health insurance, tuition-free college, and paid family leave.

The battle is joined. Americans are asking politicians: Which side are you on?

 Kelly Candaele was a union organizer for 20 years. Peter Dreier is professor of politics at Occidental College.

 

For Labor Day, Trump Attacks Workers And Social Security

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Labor Day is a holiday designed to honor America’s workers. Instead, Donald Trump continues to attack them. Indeed, his administration is in the midst of a stealth effort that not only attacks workers but also our earned Social Security benefits and our federal government. The long-term goals of Trump and his Congressional allies are to destroy the labor movement, wreck the federal government, and end Social Security.

That may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. Trump’s latest stealth attack is not only anti-union, it will eventually make it so difficult to access Social Security benefits that some beneficiaries (particularly those attempting to qualify for their earned Social Security disability benefits) never receive them at all. Others will eventually claim their benefits, but only after an unnecessarily burdensome process of visiting field offices that are rarely open and have hours-long lines when they are.

For Republicans, that’s all according to plan. Trump and his Congressional allies are intentionally breaking our government so they can turn around and say that it doesn’t work.

Trump’s war on workers is extremely well documented. It is perhaps best illustrated by his anti-worker nominees to be Secretary of Labor, a pack of wolves in the hen house. The first nominee was guilty of scores of labor law violations and forced to pay millions of dollars in settlements to workers he cheated. He was ultimately rejected because even many Republicans decided that they couldn’t vote for an ethically challenged nominee who was also an accused domestic abuser.

Trump’s second anti-worker nominee was Alex Acosta, best known for his sweetheart deal with the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. His current acting Secretary of Labor is, if anything, more anti-worker than the first two. And his newest nominee for the job has spent his career defending businesses seeking to roll back labor protections.

Trump’s war on the federal government is also well-documented. His administration is upending the lives of career civil servants by telling those based in Washington to move to the Midwest and those based around the country to relocate to Washington. Just before the beginning of the school year, these workers have been given virtually no time to decide if they will relocate or resign. This is having the desired effect: Most are quitting.

The Trump Administration’s actions are intended to shrink government to the size where they can, in the words of Republican activist Grover Norquist, “drown it in the bathtub.”

Trump’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare is equally clear. He recently floated a proposal to reduce Social Security’s funding. Days later, he gloated over his intentions to cut Medicare as a “fun second-term project.”

The American people did not vote for these benefit cuts. In fact, Trump ran on a promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. This was a shrewd political strategy, given that voters of all political stripes strongly value our Social Security and strongly oppose cutting its modest but vital benefits. They strongly value our Medicare, as well. But as with his promise to raise taxes on the rich, to provide quality health care for everyone, even to act presidential, Trump has done the exact opposite now that he’s in the White House.

Despite their claims, the GOP elite’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare — indeed, to anything the government does to help us improve our lives — doesn’t have anything to do with the debt or deficit. It has everything to do with the donor class trying to avoid paying their fair share toward the common good.

Yet because Social Security and Medicare are so popular, Republicans know that direct benefit cuts will be impossible to pass into law, as long as all of us pay attention. That is why Trump and his Congressional allies are conducting a stealth war, using guerilla warfare tactics against our earned benefits.

One of their most nefarious tactics is undercutting the Social Security Administration (SSA), the agency charged with ensuring that workers receive their earned Social Security benefits in a timely and stress-free manner. SSA has suffered nearly a decade of budget cuts from Congressional Republicans. These cuts have resulted in office closures, staff reductions, and a years-long wait for disability hearings.

Attacks on SSA don’t just hurt the agency and its 60,000 workers. They hurt all Americans by making it increasingly difficult to collect the Social Security benefits we earn with every paycheck. That’s why all of us should fight to defend it.

At SSA and across the federal government, the Trump Administration is playing hardball. It has issued anti-worker executive orders. It has failed to negotiate in good faith with those representing federal workers. And recently, the Trump administration launched a new assault. It arbitrarily and unilaterally sought to impose a new contract on SSA workers. That imposed contract would effectively destroy the ability of the workers’ union to represent them.

The Trump Administration’s goal is to make conditions at SSA so intolerable that demoralized workers will quit in droves, taking essential institutional knowledge with them. This will directly affect the hundreds of millions of us who call SSA or visit a local field office regarding our earned Social Security benefits.

Federal workers are fighting back in the courts. Their Democratic allies in Congress are seeking to come to their aid, but they do not control the White House and Senate. The only way to protect the hard-working civil servants at the Social Security Administration, and thereby protect our Social Security and Medicare, is to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

 

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

#EndorseThis: On Labor Day, Angry Boss Asks What Unions Have Done For Us

Facing a unionization drive or a contract dispute, many an irritated boss has denigrated the labor movement. Far too many Americans swallow the anti-labor rhetoric spewed by management, which is why our middle-class is struggling, our living standards have declined, and our democracy is in danger from powerful plutocrats.

“What have unions ever done for us?” is an appropriate question for Labor Day. The answer deserves to be shared today and every day.

Obama’s Labor Day Executive Order: More Paid Sick Leave For Government Contractors

By David Knowles, Bloomberg News (TNS)

President Barack Obama signed his latest executive order on Labor Day, which extends the number of paid sick leave days mandated for federal contractors.

“Right now you have parents who have to choose between losing income or staying home with a sick child,” Obama said Monday in a speech at the annual Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast, an event sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

The executive order means that federal contractors will now earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, with a cap at seven days of paid time off per year, the administration said. In total, the new regulations will extend paid sick leave to 300,000 federal contractors who currently do not have such benefits.

“Every day, the president sees the pressing need for policies to support working families,” senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told reporters on a Sunday conference call. “There are letters that come his way from hard-working Americans, who live everyday with the anxiety that comes from being one ailment or one injury away from losing a job, losing their livelihood and ability to look after their families.”

Obama also called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would require private-sector employers with more than 15 employees to extend paid sick leave benefits.

“It builds on the growing momentum of people who are answering the call,” Obama said during his speech.

Neither the president nor officials in his administration have specified the price tag of extending paid sick leave, but the order itself portrays the regulations in terms of cost savings.

“This order seeks to increase efficiency and cost savings in the work performed by parties that contract with the Federal Government by ensuring that employees on those contracts can earn up to 7 days or more of paid sick leave annually, including paid leave allowing for family care,” the executive order states. “Providing access to paid sick leave will improve the health and performance of employees of Federal contractors and bring benefits packages at Federal contractors in line with model employers, ensuring that they remain competitive employers in the search for dedicated and talented employees.”

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Greater Boston Labor Council Labor Day Breakfast in Boston, Massachusetts September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque