AZ carpenters demand state official resignation for lax enforcement of safety and wage theft laws

Members of Carpenters Local 1912 in Phoenix, Arizona told the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) that “enough is enough when it comes to short-cutting worker safety in the name of higher profits.”

More than 160 members of Local 1912 packed an ICA auditorium in Phoenix to demand that the commission end its practice of arbitrarily lowering workplace safety violation fines.

Union members also criticized the commission for its lax enforcement of wage theft violations.

“Workplace injuries and wage theft rob Arizona’s hard-working families struggling to get by, leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous employers, undermining legitimate businesses, which results in the loss of thousands of man-hours and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues to our State that could help to fund our schools, highways, and infrastructure and grow our economy,” said Fabian Sandez, president of Local 1912.

Union carpenters also want ICA Chairman Dale Schultz to resign.

ICA’s practice of lowering workplace safety fines came to light in December after an investigative report in the Arizona Daily Star found that the commission routinely lowered workplace safety fines when employers requested that they do so.

The reporters reviewed 139 workplace safety fines proposed by the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) between January 2016 and November 2016.

The reporters found that ICA, which has the authority to review and amend ADOSH fines, granted reductions or eliminated fines in half the cases. The fine reductions totaled more than $186,000.

The Star’s reporting led Peter Dooley of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and others to ask the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to review ICA’s practices.

“When you reduce fines and downgrade violations again and again, you’re sending a message that workers’ lives are not valued,” said Dooley. “That’s not right for Arizona.”

After OSHA conducted its review of ICA’s practices, it concluded that ICA was reducing fines “in a seemingly arbitrary manner” and it “was operating outside its legal authority by reclassifying violations.”

OSHA notified ICA of its findings in May and required ICA to cease its arbitrary and illegal actions.

Under the leadership of Schultz, ICA has failed to provide OSHA with a plan for changing its employer-friendly practices.

Instead, Schultz has called the commission’s practice of working with employers to reduce fines an “innovative” approach to improving workplace safety.

As he was explaining his innovative approach to the 160 carpenters attending ICA’s September 21 meeting, Pete Rodriguez, a Local 1912 member stood up, interrupted Schultz.

He asked, “How many millions of dollars have been settled and pushed under the rug because it was politics over the lives of the blue-collar man?”

Moments later Rodriquez said to Schultz, “I stand here with the Arizona carpenters and ask for your resignation.”

At that point, union members stood up and walked out, emptying the auditorium where the meeting was being held.

Before they left, carpenters criticized the commission for not doing enough to stop wage theft and employer wage fraud.

Ensuring that employers comply with state laws concerning the payment of employees and reporting those payments is one of the responsibilities of ICA.

While addressing the commission during the meeting, Sandez said that all too often, construction contractors pay their workers in cash.

By paying in cash, contractors don’t need to keep payroll records that show whether they pay overtime earned by employees, make contributions to social security, or pay unemployment and workers compensation premiums.

In short paying in cash erases any paper trail that shows whether the employer commits wage theft.

“The black market for labor exploits desperate workers, creates the loss of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues, and perpetuates criminal activity,” said Steve Pasko, a union member addressing the commission. “How are legitimate companies supposed to compete and bid for projects when (others) are allowed to operate with impunity, due to the lack of enforcement by this commission?”

Sandez faulted the commission for its failure to protect worker safety and its indifference toward wage theft crimes.

“In our industry, dishonest businesses commit on a continuing basis acts of wage theft, fraud, and willful safety violations, putting the physical safety and financial well-being of our state’s workers at risk,” said Sandez to the commissioners. “Yet this commission has chosen to side with lawbreakers by reducing fines, watering down violations, rather than taking the appropriate actions demanded by law.”

CAMI workers in Canada strike for job security

Workers at the CAMI Automotive factory in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada are on strike for job security.

The workers, members of Unifor Local 88,  want guarantees in their new collective bargaining agreement that General Motors, which owns CAMI, will designate the Ingersoll plant as the lead producer of the Chevrolet Equinox.

The Equinox is a popular mid-sized crossover SUV, and right now the CAMI factory in Ingersoll is its primary producer.

But there is concern among the 2500 Unifor members on strike that GM plans to shift more production of Equinox to Mexico.

Unifor is the largest private sector union in Canada, and Jerry Dias, Unifor’s president, says that the outcome of the strike is important not only for the CAMI workers but for the community of Ingersoll.

“These workers are standing up for good jobs. Not just for themselves, but for the entire community,” said Dias.

Dias also said that the impasse between GM and the CAMI workers “reveals significant flaws in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).”

The strike began on September 17 after the current collective bargaining agreement expired.

In a strike authorization vote that took place in August, 99.8 percent of Local 88 members voted to authorize a strike if the bargaining committee and GM couldn’t reach an agreement that would ensure that Ingersoll remains the lead producer of the Equinox.

Workers were concerned because in July GM moved production of the GMC Terrain, another crossover SUV similar to the Equinox, from Ingersoll to Mexico.

That move resulted in the layoff of 600 workers at the Ingersoll plant.

Dias in a message to Unifor members said that the strike at CAMI is bringing the troubles caused by NAFTA into clear focus.

“As Canadian, Mexican and American negotiators gather in Ottawa this weekend to begin the third round of talks toward a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement, the problems with the deal identified by the labor movement over the years are playing out right now in Ingersoll,” writes Dias.

The promise was that NAFTA was supposed to benefit workers as well as business, writes Dias, but instead NAFTA has only benefited business.

As a result of NAFTA, “we’ve seen manufacturing leave Canada for places such as Mexico” where “workers still work for poverty wages,” writes Dias.

NAFTA promised a better life for workers, continues Dias, but all that it has delivered is more poverty in Mexico and stagnant wages and more insecurity in Canada and the US.

Because of NAFTA, more auto factories are being built in Mexico, but despite the influx of auto factories, the minimum wage in Mexico remains at 65 cents an hour. “Mexican workers can’t even afford to buy the cars built in their country,” writes Dias.

As GM takes advantage of NAFTA to move work like the production of the Terrain to low-wage Mexico, the pangs of insecurity have increased at the CAMI plant.

Dias said that the CAMI workers’ demand for some job security is not unreasonable. They’re not asking that the Ingersoll plant be the only factory where the Equinox is made but rather that the Ingersoll plant remain the main site where the popular SUV is made.

Local 88 members want GM to look beyond the bottom line and realize how important the workers’ demand for job security is.

“They just want to know that their livelihoods, the stability of their communities, and the prospect of a decent future for their children will not be lost to cheaper labor made available by trade deals that failed to take these needs into full consideration,” writes Dias.

There is more at stake than just the well-being of CAMI workers. There are a network of smaller business in Ingersoll that supply auto parts to CAMI and services to people who work at the plant.

“(The strike) affects everyone,” Lori Perkins, who works at a plant across the street that supplies CAMI, told the CBC. “From our fast food people to our grocery store to what we can afford. It affects everybody.”

Formal negotiations between Unifor and GM broke off when the strike began, but resumed on September 24.

Local 88 President Dan Borthwick told Automotive News that the workers’ main demand has remained unchanged.

“We need job security and to be named the lead producer (of the Equinox),” said Borthwick.

Senators file bill banning states from enacting anti-union law

Three US senators–Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)–have introduced a bill that bans  state right-to-work laws.

The bill entitled Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards repeals section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act which gives states the authority to pass right-to-work laws.

To be clear, right-to-work laws have nothing to do with guaranteeing a job or protecting a person’s right to a job.

The purpose of so-called right-to-work laws has always been to weaken unions by limiting their funding.

“So-called right-to-work laws give corporations the ability to trample workers’ rights and dismantle unions. I refuse to let that happen,” said Sen. Brown. “At a time when Americans are working harder and earning less for the time they put in, we should be making it easier for workers to raise their voices and bargain for better wages and safer working conditions. Right to work is really right to work for less.”

Instead of protecting people’s right to work, these state laws protect free riders who enjoy the benefits and protections of a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement but don’t want to pay union dues or a fair-share fee to help defray the cost of union representation.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that the impact of right–to-work laws is clear–workers in states that have right-to-work laws are paid 3.1 percent less than their counterparts in non-right-to-work states.

That means that when you take into account all the variables including cost-of-living differences among states, the average worker in a right-to-work state makes $1558 less a year than the average worker in a state that doesn’t have right-to-work laws.

Twenty-eight states have made it harder for workers to have a union by passing right-to-work laws. Sen. Gillibrand said that by making it harder for workers to have a union, those states have lowered wages.

“More and more states are passing harsh laws that make it harder for workers to negotiate for better wages and better treatment. Over the last few decades, this has done enormous damage to our country’s middle class and the communities where they live,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “The Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act would block so-called state ‘right-to-work’ laws, which have been used to systematically attack and weaken workers’ hard-earned right to have a voice in the workplace and negotiate as a group with their employers. When unions are weak, corporations have enormous negotiating power over their workers, and can keep wages so low that their full-time employees are living in poverty. It’s time to stand up for our workers and push back.”

Sen. Warren said that right-to-work laws have lowered labor standards and the that impact of those lower labor standards will be a topic of discussion during the negotiations on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“The (US) is in the middle of renegotiating NAFTA, which was a bad deal for American workers,” said Sen. Warren. “If we want to protect workers and expect a level playing field in international trade deals, we need to start at home – and that means banning states from imposing restrictions that prevent workers from joining together to fight for their future.”

In addition to Warren, Gillibrand, and Brown, other senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the Protect Workers and Improve Labor Standards Act. They are Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that he plans to introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

“States with ‘right-to-work’ provisions have a stated goal of taking away jobs from other states by weakening unions and therefore lowering wages, only by ending so-called ‘right-to-work’ nationwide can we stop this race to the bottom.  That’s why I have introduced legislation in the House five times over the past decade to end ‘right-to-work’ laws nationwide, and in 2016 secured 48 House cosponsors,” said Rep. Sherman.  “There has never been a more critical time to pass this legislation because working families need a raise.”

Unions to Trump: Pick up your pen to end offshoring of jobs

A month-long caravan through the Midwest US ended in Washington DC on September 19 with a call for President Trump and Congress to take action to stop the offshoring of US jobs.

The caravan, called the Midwest Pickup Tour, began in Indianapolis, Indiana and stopped at seven other cities in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to hold rallies.

It was organized by the Communication Workers of America (CWA), Good Jobs Nation, and Our Revolution.

At the rallies, those in the caravan had a message for President Trump: pick up your pen and use your legal authority to sign an executive order that bans the awarding of federal contracts to companies that offshore US jobs.

The rallies also urged Congress to pass legislation such as the US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act to protect US jobs from offshoring.

At the final rally in Washington DC, CWA President Chris Shelton said that Trump could and should end the practice of offshoring US jobs.

“It’s time that wealthy corporations stopped sending jobs overseas and abandoning our communities,” said Shelton. “It’s time that elected officials keep their promises. President Trump can sign an executive order today that stops telecom companies and other companies that send good jobs overseas from getting federal contracts. He could have done that seven months ago. Instead, major US companies continue to get taxpayer-funded federal contracts and send our jobs overseas.”

A recent report by Good Jobs Nations and Public Citizen shows that large federal contractors such as General Electric and United Technologies have been awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts while sending more than 50,000 jobs abroad.

“The Trump Administration continues to reward–not punish–US companies that offshore US jobs,” states the report.

Authors of the report compared information from a Department of Labor database and a database of US contracts with private vendors and found that the federal government has awarded $176 billion worth of contracts to companies that offshore jobs.

The report also said 41 percent of the top 100 federal contractors had offshored 58,913 jobs.

The top ten offshoring private contractors are General Electric, United Technologies, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard, General Motors, Siemens, Dell, Ford, Textron, and IBM.

Peter Knowlton, president of United Electrical Workers (UE), was especially critical of GE for offshoring good-paying manufacturing jobs.

“GE has been awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts, (but) it continues to pursue a strategy of destroying unions and driving down wages to improve profits and shareholder value.”

UE has been in a battle with GE over the company’s plans to move hundreds of good-paying jobs out of its Erie, Pennsylvania factory.

Matt McCracken, UE Local 506 executive board member in Erie, said that when he started working for GE, GE’s Erie plant employed 15,000 workers.

Those jobs paid “good livable wage jobs, that gave your family some hope of a better future,” said McCracken.

But since then, GE has moved profitable division after profitable division out of the plant.

“All those jobs were moved away by big business for an extra nickel in profit, all aided and abetted by politicians like Donald Trump,” said McCracken

Knowlton said that the president should go one step further to protect good-paying manufacturing jobs.

“He needs to condition federal contracts on the unfettered freedom to organize and join a union, to enable workers to secure better pay for themselves, their families, and their community,” said Knowlton.

Shelton said that Congress also has a responsibility to protect US jobs from offshoring.

Telecommunication companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have closed call centers all over the US and shipped those jobs abroad.

Those companies in 2016 received $897 million in federal contracts.

Shipping call center jobs abroad has affected 18,000 call center workers, their families, and the communities where they live.

Shelton said that the US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, would protect workers from offshoring.

It requires “that US callers be told the location of the call center to which they are speaking; offer callers the opportunity to be connected to a US-based center if preferred; and make US companies who offshore their call center jobs from the US ineligible for certain federal grants and taxpayer-funded loans,” said Shelton.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and four other US senators sent President Trump a letter urging him to pick up a pen and sign the executive order.

“We need to send a very loud and very clear message to corporate America: the era of outsourcing is over,” stated the letter to Trump. “Instead of offshoring jobs, the time has come for you to start bringing good-paying jobs back to the United States of America.”

“If you are serious about ending offshoring and helping the American worker, you will issue an executive order ending government contracts for companies that offshore American jobs,” concluded the letter to the president.

 

StoryCorps workers vote to join CWA

Despite an anti-union campaign by their employer, workers at StoryCorps voted to join Communication Workers of America Local 1180 in New York, City.

Unless you listen to National Public Radio (NPR) stations, you may not have heard of StoryCorps.

It’s a non-profit that gathers and archives stories of ordinary people. It does so says the StoryCorps website “in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

NPR stations broadcast some of these stories once a week, and StoryCorps also produces podcasts for its website.

“We (gather these stories) to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters,” states the StoryCorps website.

Occasionally, these stories are about the work people do and the value of their work.

StoryCorps employs producers, production assistants, facilitators who conduct interviews, and others who help gather, archive, and present these stories.

StoryCorps workers have their own story. It’s about an employer that under values and under appreciates the work they do.

“We experienced sudden layoffs, worked for low wages, and weren’t able to negotiate over working conditions,” said Mia Warren, a StoryCorps production assistant and an activist in the union campaign.

Warren and other pro-union staff thought that the best way to address these problems was to have a union.

“My colleagues and I decided to come together and organize so we could have a seat at the table to discuss issues like health care benefits, severance packages, and greater transparency around pay,” continued Warren.

But StoryCorps management wasn’t interested in listening to its workers; instead, it hired an anti-union law firm, Holland & Knight to conduct a union avoidance campaign.

Workers began talking about forming a union in 2016, and contacted CWA to help them.

By June 2017, they had collected enough signatures on union authorization cards to present them to management and request that it voluntarily recognize the union.

StoryCorps said, “no” and hired Holland & Knight.

What followed was a classic anti-union campaign.

StoryCorps held captive audience meetings in which management presented an anti-union message to workers.

StoryCorps developed and distributed a Frequently Asked Questions memo about unions that repeated the same anti-union message that was presented in the captive audience meetings.

StoryCorps tried to postpone the union election by questioning the composition of the bargaining unit that would be represented by the union.

When the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the proposed bargaining unit was a valid one, StoryCorps continued to push its anti-union message.

Finally, the union representation election took place.

Workers in Brooklyn where the non-profit is headquartered had a chance to cast their vote on August 22.

Workers in other locations voted by mail.

After all the votes were cast, the NLRB counted them and on September 13 announced that 83 percent of StoryCorps union-eligible workers had voted for the union.

“Even when facing an anti-union campaign by management, my coworkers and I stayed strong for months, said Roselyn Almonte, a national facilitator at StoryCorps. “Now that we’ve made our voices heard, we can’t wait to get to the bargaining table.”

Prior to the election, StoryCorps said that if its workers voted in favor of a union, it will recognize the union and bargain in good faith.

Now the question is whether StoryCorps will keep its word or will it delay bargaining in an attempt to erode support for the union and win what it couldn’t through the ballot–a union-free StoryCorps.

We’ll see.

Teamster Joint Council 16 declares itself a sanctuary union

Teamsters Joint Council 16 on September 13 became a sanctuary union.

Joint Council 16 is composed of 27 Teamster locals in the New York City area and Puerto Rico.

The locals have a combined membership of 120,000.

“As a sanctuary union, the Teamsters will not assist federal immigration agents in deporting (our) members and will proactively provide training, legal assistance, and organize support for immigrant Teamsters,” said the Teamsters in a statement issued after Joint Council 16 passed a resolution declaring itself a sanctuary union.

The resolution was passed just one week after Eber Garcia Vasquez, a longtime Teamster member was deported to Guatemala.

Garcia, a member of Teamster Local 813 for 26 years, fled Guatemala in the 1980s during the country’s bloody civil war.

When he arrived in the US, he sought asylum as a refugee escaping the threat of political violence at home.

While his request for asylum was being considered, Garcia was given permission to work and took a job at a waste treatment facility on Long Island, New York.

While living in the US, he married an American woman and began raising a family.

After working in the US for many years, his request for asylum was denied, but he appealed the decision and received a stay of his deportation order.

While his appeal was being considered, he was required to report once a year to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to submit paperwork requesting that he be allowed to remain in the US while his asylum repeal was under review.

For four years, he did so without incident, but this year when we reported in August, he was detained.

While he was in custody, the Teamsters circulated a petition urging ICE to exercise its legal discretion and release Garcia, who was in the process of obtaining a Green Card.

“ICE should not be trying to deport someone who is eligible for a Green Card and is on his way to getting it,” said Zachary Sanders, Garcia’s attorney during an August Teamster rally in support of Garcia. “He has a family to support and a community that values him. I am hearing from so many of his coworkers and neighbors that want him to stay. ICE has the discretion to release him as his case moves forward and they should do just that.”

The Teamsters also circulated a petition urging ICE to release Garcia

“Eber’s family depends on his union job,” said the union in a statement directed  at ICE. “His wife was in a car crash earlier this year and is now in a wheelchair. His deportation will wreak havoc on their lives.”

But ICE chose not to heed the plea, and in a matter of weeks, Garcia was transferred to an ICE detention center in Louisiana and then on September 6, he was deported.

At the August rally, Ron Herrera, director of the Teamsters Waste Division, said that Garcia’s detention is not an isolated event.

“This year, we have seen an increase of attacks on our immigrant brothers and sisters in the form of ICE detentions at homes, job-sites, and schools,” said Herrera. “. . . These actions harm our economy, destroy our communities, tear families apart, and do not embody the values that we hold as Teamsters. . . I encourage my Teamster brothers and sisters, regardless of your industry, status, or personal background, to stand with our sisters and brothers in the immigrant community, as they face an unprecedented attack on their basic rights and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”

After Joint Council 16 declared itself a sanctuary union, George Miranda, president of the council, said that other immigrant members of the Teamsters should be confident that their union would stand behind them.

“Being a sanctuary union means we will do all that is in our power to keep our immigrant members safe and keep their families together,” said Miranda. “The Teamsters have fought against racism since our first days as a union, and this is the next step.”

“Standing up for immigrants is part of standing up for workers,” continued Miranda. “Companies will take advantage of undocumented workers to drive down wages and safety standards for everyone. Politicians will promote racial resentment in order to divide workers and weaken the working class. Unions know that workers are strongest when we are united and it’s on us to strengthen that shared compassion and solidarity.”

Canada: New NAFTA must include ban on so-called right-to-work laws

The second round of negotiations on changes to the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) convened on September 2  in Mexico City, and some unexpected news came out of the first session.

Canada demanded that any changes to NAFTA must include an agreement by the US to roll back anti-union right-to-work laws.

Canadian negotiators said that the so-called right-to-work laws, which have been enacted in 28 states, lower labor standards by making it more difficult for workers to form and maintain unions.

The Canadians also said that lower labor standards in the US and Mexico are costing Canada good-paying jobs and driving down living standards for Canadian workers.

The Canadians said that one of the things that the US could do to raise labor standards is to pass a federal law nullifying state right-to-work laws.

Doing so would increase unionization and give workers more bargaining power with their employers.

The Canadians also urged Mexico to discontinue government support for yellow unions, those unions more concerned with protecting employers’ interests than the interest of their members.

“I’m very pleased with the position the Canadian government is taking on labor standards,” said  Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, Canada’s largest labor union.” Canada’s got two problems: The low wage rates in Mexico and the right-to-work states in the United States.”

When round two of NAFTA negotiations began, Dias was in Mexico City to speak at a rally of workers and farmers opposed to NAFTA.

At the rally, Dias said that Mexican workers need a big pay raise and criticized the Mexican NAFTA negotiators for ignoring the concerns of Mexican workers.

“I don’t buy the argument that the Mexican negotiators are making that somehow we have to keep our citizens living in poverty in order to get jobs,” said Dias. “That’s a nonsense argument.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is leading Canada’s delegation at the NAFTA negotiations, said that a new NAFTA had to be a fair NAFTA that benefits workers of all countries as well as business.

All of us want to come out of this negotiation being able to say to workers in our countries, ‘We have achieved a deal that will improve your standard of living’,” said Freeland. “That is an essential foundation for going forward.”  

Prior to the beginning of the negotiations on a new NAFTA, the Canadian government created a NAFTA Advisory Council to help the government shape its agenda for the negotiations.

One of the members of the advisory council is Hasan Yussuf, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, Canada’s national labor confederation.

Prior to the commencement of the NAFTA negotiations, he and other labor leaders met with representatives of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss a new NAFTA.

They told the prime minister that a new NAFTA should boost the living standards for workers in all of the countries affected.

In addition to ending so-called right-to-work laws in the US and yellow unions in Mexico, Dias said that a new NAFTA must contain a commitment by all countries involved to honor eight core conventions laid out by the International Labor Organization:

  • the freedom to join labor unions
  • the right to bargain collectively
  • freedom from forced labor
  • abolition of slavery
  • a minimum wage
  • abolition of the worst forms of child labor
  • equal pay for equal work
  • abolition of discrimination on the job

Speaking to reporters, Dias said that wages of Mexican auto workers were so low that many of them can’t afford to buy the cars they make.

Raising those wages would improve living standards for Mexican auto workers and make it more difficult for Canadian and US auto makers to move work to Mexico, which would improve living standards for US and Canadian workers.

In the US, labor activist were encouraged by the position taken by the Canadian government, especially its stance on right-to-work laws.

In Ohio which is shaping up to be the next battleground state for right-to-work legislation, Richard Dalton, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 was pleased to hear that Canadian negotiators wanted the new NAFTA to ban right-to-work laws.

“Canada is taking a bold step to do what’s right,” said Dalton. “Right-to-work is not only bad for American business, it’s bad for international businesses as well.”

Dias said that the Canadian government is serious about raising labor standards and ending anti-union laws like the US’ so-called right-to-work laws.

Dias told Bloomberg Politics that without improved labor standards for all workers, Canada will walk away from the negotiations.

“It’s a red line,” said Dias.

Fed researchers find that black/white wage gap is growing

The San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank on September 5 issued an Economic Letter with some discouraging news.

According to the letter, the wage gap between black and white workers has gotten worse since 1979.

Researchers at the bank studied data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Current Population Survey between 1979 and 2016 and unemployment data from BLS for the same period.

In 1979 the average black male worker earned 80 percent of his white counterpart. By 2016 the gap had widened to 70 percent.

The same is true for black female workers. In 1979, the average female black worker earned 95 percent of her white counterpart. By 2016, the gap had widened to 82 percent.

The conclusion that the wage gap has widened, was derived from a model that Federal Bank researchers created to analyze wage and employment data over the last 37 years.

While the model showed that the wage gap has increased, it didn’t explain the cause, which left the researchers puzzled.

“The wage gap between blacks and whites is not traceable to easily measured characteristics, but rather is unexplained within our model,” state the researchers. “Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the growth in this unexplained portion account for almost all of the growth in the gap over the years.” (My emphasis)

About a year earlier, Valerie Wilson and William Rodgers III, used data from the Current Population Survey from 1979 to 2015 and came to the same conclusion–the wage gap between black and white workers has been persistent and is growing.

Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, and Rodgers, professor of Public Policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, weren’t puzzled about its cause.

“Wage gaps are growing primarily because of (racial) discrimination. . . and growing earnings inequality in general,” write Wilson and Rodgers in their paper entitled “Black-White Wage Gap Expands with Rising Wage Inequality” (September 2016).

Wilson and Rodgers find that the pay gap between black and white workers has grown at all income levels and education levels, a clear sign that racial discrimination is a main cause.

Between 1979 and 2015, the gap between low-income black workers increased by 69.3 percent; the gap between middle-income workers increased by 32.4 percent; and the gap between high-income workers increased by 32.3 percent.

The authors calculate that if racial discrimination were eliminated, the median wage for black workers would increase by $5.03 an hour.

The other cause, according to Wilson and Rodgers, is the growth of income inequality.

The authors note that since 1979 productivity in the US has increased by 63.9 percent, but almost all of the income growth generated by productivity growth has gone to the highest income earners.

Wage growth for all low- and medium-income workers has either declined or remained stagnant, but black workers have been hit hardest.

“While (wage stagnation) has not been limited to any single group of workers, African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the growing gap between pay and productivity,” write Wilson and Rodgers.

Wage growth for white men declined by 3.1 percent between 1979 and 2014. For black men, it declined by 7.2 percent

Had the productivity gains been shared equally by all income levels of workers, the median wage for black workers would have increased by an additional $12.33 an hour. Median wages of white workers would have increased by $7.30.

“By addressing both class and racial inequality, all workers are made better off, with much larger gains for African Americans because of the dual penalties imposed by class and race,” write Wilson and Rodgers.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, also is not puzzled about the causes of the wage gap.

Hateful public policy presented as a pro-business legislation keeps “millions of people of color. . . locked in poverty,” writes Owens, in an opinion piece entitled “These Labor Laws are Suppressing Black Workers.”

Owens presents two examples. The first is so-called right to work legislation that has been enacted in 28 states. It’s purpose is to make it harder for workers to form and maintain unions, which in turn lowers wages.

“Workers covered by a union contract earn 13.2 percent more in wages on average than nonunion workers who have similar levels of education and experience,” writes Owens.

Unions benefit all workers, continues Owen, “but black and Hispanic workers get even more of a boost from unionization than their white counterparts.”

According to Owens, 42 percent of all workers are scraping by working at jobs that pay less than $15.

That percentage is much higher for black workers (54 percent) and Hispanic workers (60 percent).

Having a union would help more black and Hispanic workers raise their pay and make progress toward “closing those gaps,” writes Owens.

Another example of hateful public policy is preemption legislation, which nullifies city ordinances that increase the minimum wage above the state and federal level.

A preemption law “often means (that) majority-white state legislatures (are) passing bills that suppress wages for majority-black cities,” writes Owens.

Owens points to two examples: one in Missouri where low wage workers had their pay cut after lawmakers passed a preemption law that voided St. Louis’ $10 an hour minimum wage.

The other is in Alabama where lawmakers passed a preemption law that took away a minimum wage increase in Birmingham.

Owens urges her readers to examine “the roots of supposed race-neutral measures that are being deployed around the country to stifle economic opportunity and security for all working people, but especially people of color.”

Worker death reminder dropped from OSHA website

(Podcast on Union Edge Radio)

President Trump’s Department of Labor on August 24 quietly removed the names of workers killed on the job from the front page of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) website.

The deletion of the scrolling list that included the names, date of death, and cause of death is the latest move by the Labor Department and the Trump administration to weaken enforcement of workplace safety rules.

Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of OSHA, told the Wall Street Journal that the point of the list was to “impress on the American people that we had a serious problem with workplace safety in the United States.”

The current administration moved the list to the back pages of the website, deleted some of the names, and eliminated information about the cause of death .

While the Trump administration tries to minimize the problem of workplace safety by removing a stark reminder that work can be and often is dangerous, the problem is getting worse.

“The toll of workplace injury, illness, and death remains too high, and too many workers remain at serious risk,” said the AFL-CIO in announcing the release of its annual report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

According to the report, 4863 workers died on the job in 2015, the latest years for which statistics are available.

That’s 13 deaths a day at work.

Those deaths don’t include an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers a year who die from occupational diseases such as black lung, chronic beryllium disease, Mesothelioma, and many others.

There were also 3.7 million job related injuries and illnesses reported in 2015.

Because of underreporting, that number is likely low. The AFL-CIO estimates that if unreported injuries and illnesses are taken into account, the number of on-the-job injuries and illnesses would be between 7.4 million and 11.1 million.

Such a public health problem would seem to call for a more vigorous response from the protector of public health–the government.

But that has not been the case during the first eight months of the Trump administration.

The administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on October 1, would reduce OSHA funding from $552.8 million in fiscal year 2017 to $543.3 million in fiscal year 2018. OSHA had requested $595 million in funding for 2018.

The cut to OSHA’s 2018 budget proposed in the Trump budget is just 2 percent below OSHA funding for 2018, which might not seem like a lot, but OSHA already lacks the resources to vigorously guard against workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

There are only enough OSHA inspectors to inspect workplaces once every 159 years.

There is only one OSHA inspector for every 76,402 workers.

Under the current OSHA budget, the amount spent on workplace safety is only $3.65 per worker.

And it’s not just the budget cuts to an agency that is already underfunded that affect workplace safety.

President Trump’s Labor Department in January delayed implementation of OSHA regulations designed to protect workers from beryllium poisoning.

When beryllium, a light yet strong metal used in many industries, is cut or ground, beryllium dust and vapor, which can cause a lung disease that can’t be treated and can be fatal, is released into the air.

After delaying implementation of the beryllium regulation, the Labor Department in June issued a new draft of the regulations that exempted the construction and shipbuilding industries from important protections of the original regulations.

The Labor Department also recently delayed enforcement of silica control regulations.

About 2.3 million US workers are exposed on the job to materials containing silica. When these materials are cut, drilled, crushed, or ground they emit silica dust into the work environment.

Exposure to silica can cause lung cancer, silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Looking forward, the Trump budget proposal for the next fiscal year–2018, which begins October 1–eliminates funding for the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates the causes of explosions, fires, and other workplace safety incidents caused during the manufacture of chemical and petroleum products.

It also eliminates funding for OSHA grants that provide safety training to workers in high-risk jobs.

The Labor Department now seems more concerned about not offending employers than with protecting workers’ health and safety.

On OSHA’s new website, the box at the top of the website that once contained the names of workers killed on the job has been replaced by a box entitled “OSHA WORKING WITH EMPLOYERS.”

 

St. Louis workers face 20 percent pay cut

August 28 was a grim day for many St Louis low-wage workers.

That’s the day their pay was cut by more than 20 percent.

Things had begun to look up for these workers in May when a new city ordinance that raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour went into effect.

In another year, their pay would have increased to $11 an hour.

But during summer, the Republican controlled Missouri state legislature and Republican Governor Eric Greitens decided that big restaurant chains and other low-wage employers couldn’t afford the raise.

As a result, the legislature enacted a law banning local governments from increasing the minimum wage above the state’s minimum wage–$7.70 an hour.

Gov. Greitens could have vetoed the legislation; instead, he allowed it to go into effect.

When the new state law went into effect on August 28, many of the 30,000 workers who were earning the $10 an hour minimum wage saw their pay drop by $2.30 an hour.

For a workers working 40 hours a week, that amounts to a monthly pay cut of more than $350.

Large fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell are being circumspect about their plans to cut workers wages, but workers like Betty Douglas, a cook and cashier at a local McDonald’s, are bracing for bad news next payday.

Douglas wrote in Civil Eats that after the state law was enacted, her employer told her and her co-workers that McDonald’s “‘reserves the right’ to take away our raises because of the minimum wage cut.”

Not all employers are taking the low road.

Ben Poremba, a St. Louis chef who owns four restaurants, told the Los Angeles Times that he will continue to pay a minimum of $10 an hour.

“The cost of living is rising, but not the pay, so it’s morally important not to lower the minimum wage,” said Poremba to the Times. “I want to debunk the notion that it’s not good for business, and if smaller businesses can afford it, then big retailers and fast-food companies can as well.”

Poremba was joined by 135 other small businesses that signed a  pledge not to lower their minimum wage below $10 an hour.

But the vast majority of St Louis’ low-wage employers have chosen not to sign the pledge.

On the day that their pay was cut, a number of low-wage workers announced that they weren’t giving up the fight for a fair minimum wage.

At a rally, they called for people to sign a petition to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour.

The petition campaign is led by Raise Up Missouri. If enough people sign the petition, then Missouri voters will have a chance in November 2018 to vote on whether to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour.

At the rally, low wage workers were joined by St Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who said that she was supporting the $12 an hour minimum wage petition campaign.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said in a statement that he was supporting the $12 an hour minimum wage campaign.

On Labor Day, a week after the St Louis wage cut went into effect, rallies and demonstrations to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour are being held in 400 cities across the US.

Organizers of the rallies and demonstrations are hoping to turn the activism generated by the fight for a $15 minimum wage into a political movement that can vote out state leaders like those in Missouri who oppose raising the minimum wage and replace them with those who support raising it.

Organizers of the effort, including SEIU and other unions, are conducting voter engagement campaigns in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois–states where decent pay was once the rule but now is the exception.

The voter engagement campaign seeks to identify, register to vote, and motivate workers to vote for candidates who support raising the minimum wage.

Betty Douglas said that despite the set back in St Louis, she isn’t giving up the fight for fair pay for all workers.

“What corporations and politicians are doing to me and other working people in St. Louis is obscene,” writes Douglas. “But we refuse to take it lying down. Instead, we are taking to the streets—and we will be louder than ever.”

Douglas said that on Labor Day, she and tens of thousands of people will be in the streets demanding $15 an hour minimum wage and union rights.

“We’ll be fighting for the 30,000 working people in St. Louis who could see their pay cut, and the 64 million people across this country who still aren’t paid enough to survive. We’ll be fighting for an America where politicians listen to working people instead of powerful corporations, and where everyone who works hard can earn fair wages that only go up, and never go down,” writes Douglas.