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Puerto Rico: Those Unforgettable Days

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:18:30 +0000

Puerto Rico: Those Unforgettable Days

Puerto Rico Relief
Gonzalo Salvador

There are days in our lives that are unforgettable. They are entrenched in our minds. They follow us like perennial shadows. Six months ago, I spent five days in Puerto Rico—two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated this Caribbean island. As I look back into this short trip, I see images and situations that have stayed with me. Memories that are a constant reminder of how much remains to be done to lift up all working families who were affected by this disaster. Here are some of these moments:

Saturday, Oct. 7—Luis Muñoz Marin Airport, Carolina, Puerto Rico

Families with small children, elderly people. All of them desperately trying to leave the island. A feeling of guilt invaded me as I stepped onto my United Airlines flight to Newark, New Jersey. Nearly 300 volunteers from different unions stayed in Puerto Rico for another two weeks, providing critical relief to people who were affected by Hurricane Maria. In the previous four days, they became my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, Oct. 4—Baseball Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico

It is 4 o’clock in the morning. "Everyone up. Time to go." I overheard the voice coming from back in the locker room, still half asleep while laying down on a cot. My roommates, most of them operating engineers, dressed in a heartbeat. They were energized and looking forward to getting to work.

Less than 12 hours earlier, we arrived on a flight from Newark Airport provided by United. Buses took us to our new "home": The Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Time flies. It took less than two weeks to organize this relief mission and to get volunteers from many unions who had valuable skills that were urgently needed in Puerto Rico—electricians, nurses, truck drivers, operating engineers, plumbers, only to name a few.

The conditions at the baseball stadium were precarious at best. We had a limited supply of food and drinking water. But at least we had electricity and spotty cell phone reception. We were the lucky ones. At the time, nearly 90% of the island didn’t have any power. Only a few had access to water.

But even as we encountered these dire conditions, all volunteers were eager to go out and help. They reminded me of what the labor movement is all about: brotherhood, sisterhood and solidarity. Each union member was proud to give a hand to those most in need.      

Friday, Oct. 6—Barceloneta, Puerto Rico

It took a caravan of trucks and heavy machinery nearly three hours to reach Barceloneta, a small town less than 50 miles west of San Juan. The scenery that surrounded us was similar to a surrealist painting—trees were uprooted, all the vegetation was wiped out. Desolation. There wasn’t a trace of that paradisiacal island I visited many years before on vacation.

As soon as we arrived to this town, nurses and doctors began visiting a nearby nursing home. I joined a team of truck drivers and operating engineers who were in charge of clearing a road of debris.

At a distance, I spotted a house without a roof. A tree had fallen on its balcony. The windows were broken. A couple in their late 60s came out and asked me for help. They hadn’t had water or electricity for days. They said that they lost everything. I turned around in frustration, only to find more people asking me for water to drink.

On our way back, I took a bus and sat next to our health care volunteers. A nurse told me that people were sick and unnecessarily dying. A doctor from California showed me the photo of a man in his 80s. He said that he was about to die of dehydration and malnutrition.

"If we had arrived a day later, he would have died," the doctor added.

The sun was down. Total darkness surrounded us. Only a light was blinking far away. A beacon of hope, I thought.     

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Almost six months have passed since that day. The news is not good. Nearly 10% of the island doesn’t have electricity. Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, have no other option than to leave their homes and move to the "mainland." More than 1,000 people have died from causes related to the hurricane. Unnecessary deaths, as the nurse told me back in October. She was right. Most of those deaths were preventable.

And to add insult to injury, instead of pushing for policies that would provide Puerto Rico relief, there are talks of privatizing schools and lowering standards for teachers and other working people.

Today, I look back and think of all the people who I met during all those days in Puerto Rico. It is impossible not to wonder what happened to all of them. How is the couple in Barceloneta who lost everything doing? Is the man at the retirement home whose life was saved by a volunteer still alive?

Were our volunteer efforts in vain?  


Our volunteers not only repaired the electric grid and generators, restored water, cleared roads and provided critical health care, they left an impression on every person they helped. I am sure that even today, those efforts endure.

And while greedy corporations continue to take advantage and make money off of Puerto Rico’s misfortune, union members are still on the ground helping their fellow Americans.

Like that light blinking during the night among the darkness, I believe that there is still hope for Puerto Rico. Our union volunteers’ solidarity is proof that even in the middle of a catastrophe, goodness prevails over greed. The labor movement’s constant commitment to aid our brothers and sisters, who continue to be under distress, is nothing short of heroic.

I am proud to be part of this movement. I am proud of every single woman and man who responded to the call to go to Puerto Rico.

Those days. Those unforgettable days.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:18

Trumka: The Politicians Screaming About a Trade War Are Beholden to Wall Street

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:55:56 +0000

Trumka: The Politicians Screaming About a Trade War Are Beholden to Wall Street

Wall Street’s hair is on fire about steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by President Trump, because closing mills and factories in the United States and moving them overseas is how investors enrich themselves.

And those wealthy investors reap even fatter profits when offshore mills and factories violate trade laws. Wall Street doesn’t care about the social and economic costs of unfair trade, because working people and our communities pay the price.

We care about working people and our jobs, and we care about holding bad actors accountable. That’s why the AFL-CIO has consistently made the case for the use of tariffs to crack down on trade law violations. In the case of steel and aluminum, it’s not just about unfair trade practices, it’s also about national security.

This isn’t about Trump. And it certainly isn’t about partisan politics. Many in both parties have failed working people on the issue of trade. The politicians who are screaming about a trade war have one thing in common: They are beholden to Wall Street.

The real trade war is being waged directly on working people — our jobs, our communities, our way of life. We’ve been getting our butts kicked for decades because the rules allow global companies to profit at our expense rather letting us rise together. It’s a rigged game. Just take a drive through my small coal-mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania if you want proof.

When American workers compete on a level playing field, we win. Tariffs are one important step to help us do exactly that.

How does that work? To understand, you first have to recognize these basic facts:

Read the full op-ed in the Washington Post.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 03/20/2018 - 09:55

It's About Dignity and Humanity: Worker Wins

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 12:50:30 +0000

It's About Dignity and Humanity: Worker Wins

NY Parking Production Assistants

Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with a group of production assistants voting unanimously for a voice on the job and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

New York Parking Production Assistants Unanimously Vote to Join CWA: Nearly 600 parking production assistants who secure parking in the New York City area for film and television productions voted unanimously to be represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The PPAs usually arrive 1224 hours prior to production and work to secure parking spaces for production vehicles and equipment, usually working long hours alone, overnight, in conditions that are potentially dangerous. "This vote was about dignity, about humanity," said Lanere Rollins, one of the PPAs who voted to join CWA. "Film and TV productions couldn't happen without us, but PPAs have been on the bottom rung of the entertainment industry for a long time. Not one PPA in the city voted 'no' for the union, because we're stepping up to demand the respect and fair treatment that we deserve."

Another Victory for CWA at AT&T: More than 12,000 AT&T wireless workers represented by CWA in nine southeastern states and the Virgin Islands won a tentative contract that provides increased wages, improved job security, and rollbacks of offshoring and outsourcing. "I am proud of our bargaining committee and the CWA members from across the country who supported their efforts with rallies and picketing events," said Richard Honeycutt, vice president of CWA District 3. "We are continuing to set new standards in the wireless industry and we are demonstrating that the best way for working people to achieve better pay and fair treatment on the job is by joining together in a union." The agreement comes on the heels of a similar agreement, which was ratified last month by AT&T wireless workers in 36 additional states and Washington, D.C.

Majority of Mic Editorial Staff Vote to Join The NewsGuild of New York/CWA: The overwhelming majority of the editorial staff at digital news outlet Mic voted to be represented by The NewsGuild of New York/CWA Local 31003. The employees are now requesting that management voluntarily recognize their union. "I am so proud that the overwhelming majority of Mic reporters, editors, correspondents, social media editors, producers and copy editors have come together as a collective voice to improve Mic’s workplace," said Kelsey Sutton, Mic political reporter.

Food Service Workers at Airbnb Join UAW: Nearly 150 Bon Appétit Management Co. employees working at Airbnb ratified their first union contract with UAW. The agreement covers workers in San Francisco, California, and Portland, Oregon, who work in food service for Airbnb. "The contract raises the bar for working people up and down the West Coast," said Gary Jones, the Western Regional Director for the UAW. "We believe the dishwashers, servers and chefs working for Bon Appétit and serving Airbnb employees are now among the highest paid food service workers in California. This contract includes first-class language that protects workers’ rights and ensures excellent health benefits."

Kaiser Permanente Nurses in California Win Tentative Agreement: Registered nurses and nurse practitioners at 21 Kaiser Permanente medical centers and offices in Northern and Central California won a tentative agreement on a five-year contract that protects existing standards and improves protections for patients. The nurses, who are represented by National Nurses United (NNU), will begin voting on ratification of the contract on March 26. 

Alaska Airlines' Flight Attendants Reach Agreement on Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement: Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines agreed to a joint collective bargaining agreement that covers more than 5,400 working people. The agreement improves upon the previous contract and includes pay increases. "We worked hard to achieve improvements for the Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants while simultaneously balancing the need to quickly address the disparity for the former Virgin America Flight Attendants working under their current pay and work rules. The JCBA accomplishes those goals and provides for a smooth path to combine the two Flight Attendant groups," said Jeffrey Peterson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) president at Alaska Airlines.

Piedmont Passenger Service Agents Win Major Improvements in Tentative New Contract: More than a year of bargaining and mobilization by Piedmont Airlines' passenger service agents has resulted in a tentative new contract that includes major raises, improved benefits and other gains. "Courageous passenger service agents have been standing up for family-sustaining jobs at American Airlines, and it's because of their determination and commitment to winning a fair contract that thousands of hardworking agents at Piedmont will see big improvements in pay and benefits after this long and tough fight," said CWA President Chris Shelton. "Working people joining together in unions to negotiate collectively remains the best way to achieve the fair return on their work that they deserve."

Seattle NPR Staff Vote to Join SAG-AFTRA: Staff at KUOW-FM 94.9 overwhelmingly voted to be represented by SAG-AFTRA. The bargaining unit will cover public media professionals who create content for the NPR- and University of Washington-affiliated station. Next, the unit will begin negotiations toward their first contract.

Frontier Communications Employees Prove Even Home-Based Workers Can Organize: More than 160 home-based customer service representatives in Texas who work for Frontier Communications won a mail ballot election to be represented by CWA. The organizing committee set up a network to share information on a daily basis, using both traditional organizing methods, as well as text and social media.

Fire Fighters Win Safety Improvements: In response to dwindling resources and dangerous work conditions, firefighters across the country are stepping up to win improvements on the job. In Portsmouth, Virginia, Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 539 members helped elect a city council that increased resources. In Ohio, IAFF Local 334 members fought to establish a "cancer presumption law" that assumes that firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer contracted the disease on the job and are therefore eligible for workers' compensation and pension benefits. And in Henry County, Georgia, members of IAFF Local 4052 persuaded the Board of Commissioners to accept a SAFER Grant that improves safety for firefighters and local residents.

Kenneth Quinnell Tue, 03/20/2018 - 08:50

Today's Working Women Honor Their Courageous Foremothers

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:47:19 +0000

Today's Working Women Honor Their Courageous Foremothers

Nearly two centuries ago, a group of women and girls — some as young as 12 — decided they'd had enough. Laboring in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, they faced exhausting 14-hour days, abusive supervisors and dangerous working conditions. When threatened with a pay cut, they finally put their foot down.

The mill workers organized, went on strike and formed America's first union of working women. They shocked their bosses, captured the attention of a young nation and blazed a trail for the nascent labor movement that would follow.

As we celebrate Women's History Month, working women are proudly living up to that example—organizing, taking to the streets and running for office in unprecedented numbers. It is a reminder that the movements for worker and women’s rights always have been interwoven.

But even as we rally together, our opponents are proving to be as relentless as ever. It’s been 184 years since that first strike in Lowell, and our rights still are being threatened by the rich and powerful. The Janus v. AFSCME case currently before the Supreme Court is one of the most egregious examples.

Janus is specifically designed to undermine public-sector unions’ ability to advocate for working people and negotiate fair contracts. More than that, it is a direct attack on working women. The right to organize and bargain together is our single best ticket to equal pay, paid time off and protection from harassment and discrimination.

Women of color would be particularly hurt by a bad decision in this case. Some 1.5 million public employees are African-American women, more than 17 percent of the public-sector workforce. Weaker collective bargaining rights would leave these workers with even less of a voice on the job.

This only would add insult to injury as black women already face a double pay gap based on race and gender, earning only 67 cents on the dollar compared to white men.

This is a moment for working women to take our fight to the next level. For generations, in the face of powerful opposition, we have stood up for the idea that protecting the dignity and rights of working people is a cause in which everyone has a stake.

Read the full op-ed at The Hill.

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 03/19/2018 - 15:47

Drake: 'Tariffs to Protect U.S. National and Economic Security Are Overdue'

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 15:12:18 +0000

Drake: 'Tariffs to Protect U.S. National and Economic Security Are Overdue'

Celeste Drake, trade policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, participated in a discussion last week about trade and tariffs at The Dialogue. The following question was submitted to Drake and other experts:

U.S. President Donald Trump on March 8 signed into law new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum despite anxious warnings from leading members of his own party, global trading partners and liberal economists. At the same time, he announced that Canada and Mexico would be exempt from the tariffs, pending the outcome of the re-negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The tariffs have support from a diverse coalition of interests, ranging from the largest labor union in the United States to right-wing advocates of Trump’s 'America First' political ideology. What would the tariffs mean for Latin American and Caribbean countries? Which players stand to gain or lose the most? How will concerns about a global trade war come to bear on the current talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement? 

Drake responded:

For years, firms and workers in both the developed and developing world have supported action against unfair trade practices. In this century, China, in particular, has engaged in currency manipulation, denial of labor rights and overproduction—trade issues that the WTO and other multilateral forums have failed to address. The tariffs to protect U.S. national and economic security are overdue. They are a good step toward strengthening firms and protecting workers in the steel and aluminum industries, providing they are targeted to the countries that caused the problem, such as China. It is important to distinguish between trade enforcement and a trade war. Wall Street’s 'chicken little' rhetoric comparing this action to the Smoot-Hawley tariff has no basis in fact. More important, however, is that the global trading system needs comprehensive changes to prevent the kind of game-playing we have seen in global steel markets. Unions across the Americas are united in calling for sustainable, equitable trade rules that strengthen economies and create wage-led growth. In our globalized economy, workers are always better off with international—not unilateral—solutions. Since the United States, Canada and Mexico are already working to fix NAFTA, the three countries should develop a coordinated response to global economic challenges like dumping, overcapacity, tax avoidance and currency misalignment—even as they work on improving existing NAFTA labor and investment regimes. Just as inaction in the face of illegal trade practices harms working people, so will a go-it-alone strategy. If President Trump has an interest in hemispheric shared prosperity, he should abandon the nationalist rhetoric that plays into the hands of Wall Street critics of trade enforcement. Now is the time for the countries of the Americas to come together to address beggar-thy-neighbor trade strategies, abandon the race to the bottom and build economies that work for ordinary families, not just the global investor class.

Read the other responses.

Kenneth Quinnell Mon, 03/19/2018 - 11:12

The Path to Power: The Working People Weekly List

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 17:23:31 +0000

The Path to Power: The Working People Weekly List

Conor Lamb victory!

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.


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

Local Union Leaders in the Midwest Strategize to Win in 2018 and Beyond: "'We are the only ones who can deliver the massive economic and social change working people are hungry for,' said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) to more than 300 union leaders gathered in Chicago this week. Local union leaders from state federations, labor councils and affiliate unions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota joined together for the AFL-CIO Midwest District meeting to spend the day building a strategy to empower working people for victories in 2018 and beyond."

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."

Inslee Signs Law ‘Banning the Box’ in Washington State: "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."

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."

Make Your St. Patrick’s Day Union-Made in America: "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."

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."

Enforcing Trade Rules Is Not a 'Trade War': "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?"

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 03/16/2018 - 13:23

Strengthening Working People's Power: AFL-CIO Holds Southwest District Meeting

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 15:27:10 +0000

Strengthening Working People's Power: AFL-CIO Holds Southwest District Meeting

Southwest District Meeting

The fifth AFL-CIO district meeting of the year kicked off in Las Vegas with a discussion about the potential for growing power for working people in the Southwest. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler (IBEW) gave the crowd of nearly 300 union leaders and activists one number to think about: 8.8 million.

That’s the number of immigrants eligible to get naturalized and on the path to citizenship.

Shuler explained: "That could mean 8.8 million workers empowered to exercise their rights on the job because they have the ultimate protection from deportation. 8.8 million new voters. And 8.8 million families that are more stable and secure."

The Southwest District states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas are home to some 1.5 million working people who are eligible for citizenship today. The labor movement in the Southwest is actively organizing union members to pursue naturalization. This will strengthen worker power to gain concrete protections on the job, expand and diversify the electorate, and help win the sweeping changes that working people expect and deserve.

Panel participants from Culinary Union Local 226, Laborers (LIUNA) locals 169 and 872, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 99, and the Texas AFL-CIO shared best practices around arranging citizenship clinics, partnering with community organizations to reach a wider range of potential citizens, and empowering new citizens to vote.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre (UFCW) closed the panel discussion by asking attendees to move forward similar programs through their unions. He said: "This is work for all of us. We want unions to become the center of all activity on immigration in their communities. We want workers to know that it was the union who helped them to become a citizen. It is up to us if we want 8.8 million workers to join our ranks."

A series of breakout sessions and a panel of state federation leaders from Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas focused on building upon the achievements and growth of the labor movement in the Southwest. Although labor leaders in the district have to fight against “right to work” laws and well-funded anti-worker groups, their recent victories include:

  • Organizing new workers at Station Casinos and Trump International Hotel in Nevada.
  • Adding 80,000 new union members in Texas.
  • Stopping right to work laws in the Colorado and New Mexico legislatures.
  • Electing Nevada’s first Latina senator and ousting Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the 2016 elections.

In a video message, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) encouraged attendees to keep up the momentum in 2018: 

When more union members fill the halls of power, when wages go up and inequality shrinks, when we have more pro-labor Republicans and fewer corporate-beholden Democrats, when a growing number of young people see the value of democracy, when we stop defining victory as simply not losing, and most of all, when more workers realize their own value and power, that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.

Kenneth Quinnell Fri, 03/16/2018 - 11:27

Local Union Leaders in the Midwest Strategize to Win in 2018 and Beyond

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 17:22:27 +0000

Local Union Leaders in the Midwest Strategize to Win in 2018 and Beyond

Midwest District Meeting

"We are the only ones who can deliver the massive economic and social change working people are hungry for," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) to more than 300 union leaders gathered in Chicago this week. Local union leaders from state federations, labor councils and affiliate unions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota joined together for the AFL-CIO Midwest District meeting to spend the day building a strategy to empower working people for victories in 2018 and beyond.

President Trumka reflected on the latest successes in the Midwest and the importance of building on that momentum. Recent victories include:

  • When anti-worker legislators passed "right to work" in Missouri, working people pounded the pavement, collecting more than three times the signatures necessary to put that law on the ballot this fall, when they plan to defeat it.

  • Hotel workers secured a major victory when the Chicago City Council passed the "Hands Off, Pants On" ordinance, thanks to a massive campaign by the Chicago Federation of Labor and UNITE HERE Local 1. The legislation mandates that housekeepers be given panic buttons so they can alert hotel security when they feel threatened and prohibits hotel employers from retaliating against a hotel worker for reporting sexual harassment or assault by a guest.

  • South Dakota is investing in young leaders, like the newly elected president of the Sioux Falls Central Labor Council, Kooper Caraway (AFSCME). At 27 years old, Caraway is the youngest elected AFL-CIO president in the history of South Dakota and one of the youngest labor council presidents in the country.

  • In Minnesota, labor led the charge to raise the wage in Minneapolis and secure paid sick leave in St. Paul.

  • When anti-labor politicians passed sweeping legislation requiring public-sector unions to hold recertification elections before negotiating new contracts, unions dug deep and focused on internal organizing, recertifying more than 93% of Iowa's public-sector bargaining units.

"The test of 2018 and beyond will be to build on these successes. Each election, each organizing drive, each legislative battle will showcase our growing clout," Trumka said. Two panels at the Midwest District meeting dove further into the achievements and challenges we face in the states and featured state federation presidents from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota. They discussed the importance of listening to union members and engaging them on issues and the value of solidarity across the labor movement. AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre (UFCW) echoed their sentiment when he said: "We’re here to say if you mess with one of us, you have to deal with all of us."


Breakout sessions gave participants the tools they need to build a stronger labor movement in the Midwest. Sessions focused on internal organizing, using issues to engage our members and allies, building a program to elect union members to political office, and using data and technology to break new ground in politics and organizing.

Participants left feeling energized and ready to increase worker power. Michael Matejka, director of government affairs for the Great Plains Laborers’ District Council, said: "Too often we can get stuck in our own world and our own issues. Meetings like this are critical to understanding the challenges and opportunities that we have as a labor movement."

This is the fourth district meeting that’s taken place in 2018, with two more meetings to be held in Las Vegas and New Orleans.

Check out the photo album on Facebook.

Kenneth Quinnell Thu, 03/15/2018 - 13:22

What Are Tariffs, Anyway?

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 16:46:37 +0000

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, 15 Mar 2018 15:42:39 +0000

Inslee Signs Law 'Banning the Box' in Washington State

Washington Ban the Box
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


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