A coalition of faith organizations, investors and labor groups—including the AFL-CIO—is urging major U.S. retailers, including Walmart, Gap, Sears and others, to sign on to a binding workplace and fire safety plan to prevent tragedies such as the recent building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers and two 2012 fires that claimed the lives of more than 400 Bangladeshi clothing workers.
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) wrote that those disasters are:
A grave indictment of the human rights record of Bangladesh and an illustration of the failure of the global companies that manufacture and source their products there to ensure humane working conditions.
So far 30 companies, mostly European clothing retailers, have signed the Accord on Building and Fire Safety, developed by international and Bangladeshi unions, retailers and other groups. The International Labor Organization (ILO) will help implement it. But major U.S. retailers that import the goods made by very low-wage workers in Bangladesh have not claimed concerns over liability or that they prefer non-binding approaches to worker safety. They have claimed they will develop their own safety plans. But, as the ICCR letter points out:
Acting alone, companies can and do bring about meaningful and positive changes in human rights in the countries where they source and manufacture, and we encourage companies to be part of the solution to ensure better working conditions in Bangladesh. But when faced with intransigence of the type we have historically seen in Bangladesh on worker safety issues, we are convinced that systemic change will only occur when companies take action together. They must use the full force of their commercial power to press for reforms.
In a second letter to large U.S. retailers, 15 investor groups, also including the AFL-CIO and union, state, municipal and other pension funds—with more than $1.35 trillion in assets—urge large U.S. retailers to sign the accord.
Improving worker safety in Bangladesh may require a collaborative effort by both companies and government. As shareholders, however, we specifically must rely on the companies in which we invest to monitor and mitigate the risks in their supply chains. We urge companies with significant purchasing power in Bangladesh—companies such as Walmart and Gap—to act swiftly and effectively.
Many of the companies that import products from Bangladesh claim they are unaware of the safety and working conditions and sometimes even unaware of where their goods are made. They say they count on their suppliers to monitor safety and working conditions. But the investment groups counter:
Proper risk oversight requires first that a company knows its supply chain. We expect companies in our portfolios to ensure the integrity of their supply chains. We are dismayed by public statements from any company that states it is unaware that a factory produces its products….It is not sufficient to place the onus for compliance on suppliers alone while pricing systems actively undercut requisite investment in infrastructure or encourage covert subcontracting.
Read the full letter from the investors and the full letter from the ICCR.
At times, the meeting of the Board of Education of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on Wednesday took on the air of a mass mock trial; at others, it seemed like a public execution. On the dock were 53 elementary schools and one high school charged with underutilization of space and underperformance. The prosecutor—CPS superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett—charged that those crimes led to an even more grave offense: unbalancing the budget. The proposed punishment? Off with their heads, or rather, shut their doors and merge them with other schools in the largest single closing of urban public schools in U.S. history.
by Kay Tillow
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, also known as Obamacare, presents challenges to the multiemployer plans through which some unions bargain collectively to provide health care insurance for their members. These plans, often called Taft Hartley Plans, currently cover about 26 million workers, families, and retirees. Unless there is a major regulatory change made by Health and Human Services, these union negotiated plans will be struck a harsh blow once the exchanges go into effect in 2014.
A quiet effort by many unions to persuade the Obama administration to make this change is now becoming very public.
In an Op Ed published in The Hill, Joseph T. Hansen, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), said,
But as currently interpreted, the ACA would block these plans from the law’s benefits (such as the subsidy for lower-income individuals and families) while subjecting them to the law’s penalties (like the $63 per insured person to subsidize Big Insurance). This creates unstoppable incentives for employers to reduce weekly hours for workers currently on our plans and push them onto the exchanges where many will pay higher costs for poorer insurance with a more limited network of providers. In other words, they will be forced to change their coverage and quite possibly their doctor. Others will be channeled into Medicaid, where taxpayers must pick up the tab.
In addition, the ACA includes a fine for failing to cover full-time workers but includes no such penalty for part-timers (defined as working less than 30 hours a week). As a result, many employers are either reducing hours below 30 or discontinuing part-time health coverage altogether. This is a cut in pay and benefits workers simply cannot afford. For example, a worker making $10 an hour that has his or her schedule cut by six hours a week would lose $3,100 a year in income. With millions of workers impacted, this would have a devastating effect on our economy.
The effort of unions to persuade the Obama administration to change the regulations in order to resolve the problems was reported in the January 30, 2013, Wall St. Journal.
“Top officers at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, theAFL-CIO and other large labor groups plan to keep pressing the Obama administration to expand the federal subsidies to these jointly run plans, warning that unionized employers may otherwise drop coverage.”
“We are going back to the administration to say that this is not acceptable,” said Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer for the Teamsters, according to the WSJ article.
Many unions have been working through the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP) to find a solution. In a memorandum to the Department of Health and Human Services, the NCCMP stated:
If subsidies are available only for plans purchased through Exchanges, employers contributing to multiemployer plans will face tremendous economic pressure to stop contributing to multiemployer plans…. Many employers will feel the need to drop coverage and access the subsidies to remain competitive.
On April 16, 2013, the United Union of roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers International President Kinsey M. Robinson issued a statement calling for a repeal or complete reform of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). He stated that the union has supported President Obama for both terms in office but that the union’s concerns “over certain provisions in the ACA have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored.”
“In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the Act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer sponsored coverage could keep it. These provisions jeopardize our multi-employer health plans, have the potential to cause a loss of work for our members, create an unfair bidding advantage for those contractors who do not provide health coverage to their workers, and in the worst case, may cause our members and their families to lose the benefits they currently enjoy as participants in multi-employer health plans,” Robinson stated.
The Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School recently held a special workshop on The Affordable Care Act: Impact on Multiemployer Plans. The materials from that educational event are available here.
So far there is no adequate answer from the Obama administation to the efforts of unions to resolve the issues. The state exchanges must be in place by October of 2013 so that they are ready to go byJanuary 1, 2014.
Many of the unions involved contend that regulations for the ACA could be written to allow the employers that pay into these union negotiated plans to receive the same subsidies that employers will receive in the exchanges. So far, that has not happened.
This is one of many conundrums that face unions as the costs of health care in our corporate-controlled, profit-oriented system make the maintenance of health benefits increasingly difficult to achieve.
This growing crisis underlines the need for unions to press for passage of HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, national single payer health insurance. HR 676 has been reintroduced by Congressman John Conyers (D. MI) into the 113th Congress and has 41 cosponsors. This real solution awaits a dynamic, massive, in-the-streets movement that makes sound health policy also politically feasible.
Such a solution would improve the lives of all workers by assuring that everyone has all medically necessary care with no co-pays and no deductibles. Even dental care and long term care are covered.
Private for-profit health insurance companies and the massive waste they cause would be removed. Unions would free their health care from corporate control as labor has done in other industrialized countries where some form of publicly funded single payer care is guaranteed. Care would be expanded and costs brought under control. By leading this fight for universal care, unions would once again prove that social justice can be achieved through the leadership of the nation’s organized workers.
With all of labor harmed by the attacks in Wisconsin, the “right to work for less” in Michigan and Indiana, a host of Koch-sponsored legislation in states across the country, and the brutal assault on pensions, what better way to fight back than to use labor’s vast grass roots mobilizing clout to promote HR 676?
“I work at Quick Pita in the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building. I work nearly 12 hours every day serving lunch to the thousands of people who work in the building. But I am not here to tell you how hard I work. I am here to tell you that my employer does not follow the law,” testified Antonio Vanegas before a hearing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus yesterday.
Vanegas is one of 100,000 low-wage workers in the Washington, DC area, according to Good Jobs Nation, many of whom are employed by federal contractors or in federally owned buildings like Union Station, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and the Ronald Reagan Building. He and about 100 of his colleagues went on a one-day strike yesterday in order to draw attention to their low pay. Despite provisions in the federal Service Contract Act stating that federal contract workers like Antonio Vanegas should make at least the local prevailing wage, up until a few weeks ago Vanegas was making $6.50 an hour–less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and well below the D.C. minimum wage of $8.25. Additionally, Vanegas works 60 hours a week, but claims he receives no overtime pay for hours he works past 40, in violation of the Federal Labor Standards Act.
“There are many workers in the food court who are like me, who don’t make enough to pay the rent, put food on our tables and take care of our families,” said Vanegas in his testimony. “That’s why I’m here and why so many workers like me are on strike today. We want the federal government to be a good landlord and rent prime retail space to employers who follow the law. We want the government to lead by example and guarantee that all workers who do work on behalf of the federal government earn a legal and living wage.”
Faith, labor and community leaders join families to announce next steps and deliver book of testimonies from aspiring citizens and Americans from across the country
WASHINGTON, DC - As the bipartisan immigration bill heads to the Senate floor, the momentum continues to escalate with communities across the country raising their voices for commonsense immigration reform. National immigration reform leaders and immigrant families will echo this call tomorrow, announcing the next steps ahead to ensure passage of a smart and fair bill in the Senate.
Advocates of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Casa de Maryland, Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), and Bend the Arc Jewish Action will speak near the Senate offices and immediately afterward will deliver a book of testimonies to members of Congress who will have a crucial vote on the immigration bill after the congressional recess. The personal entries in the book are authored by diverse aspiring citizens and Americans from across the country who support immigration legislation that paves a pathway to citizenship.
WHAT: Immigration leaders and families to speak on next steps to pass a strong immigration bill with roadmap to citizenship, and deliver book of testimonies to key members of the Senate and House.
WHEN: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. (ET)
WHERE: Between the Dirksen and Russell Senate Buildings, corner of First St NE and C St NE
WHO: National Faith, Labor and Community Leaders and Immigrant Families, including:
- Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of Casa de Maryland
- Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
- Hadar Susskind, Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action
For more information, please contact Beatriz Lopez at email@example.com.
A time-honored tactic of conservative lawmakers is to “starve the beast”by defunding government programs. In the case of food stamps—the quintessential whipping boy for budget hawks—they’re going a step further by trying to starve actual people.
The House of Representatives and Senate have proposed the United States “tighten our belts” by slashing billions of dollars from poor people’s food budgets. The main mechanism for shrinking the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding is the removal of “categorical eligibility.” Basically, most states have used this policy to streamline enrollment: Families are made eligible for food stamps based on their receipt of other benefits, such as housing or childcare subsidies. That often means broadening eligibility for working-poor families or those with overall household income or savings that exceeds regular, stricter thresholds for qualifying for food stamps.
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee finished the mark-up process and passed a bipartisan immigration bill that, at its core, maintains a pathway to citizenship. We applaud the committee's work toward providing millions of hardworking aspiring immigrants an opportunity to earn citizenship.
However, our excitement about the bill's progress is only tempered by the powerful call for immigration equality that was not answered. We stand in solidarity with our LGBT brothers and sisters, moved tremendously by the statements of Senators, particularly Senator Patrick Leahy, who rightly said that the time for marriage equality and recognition of same-sex binational couples under immigration law has come.
We will continue to work to improve the legislation as we fight for passage, because this bill is a historic step forward for all immigrants.
WASHINGTON, DC - After the Senate HELP Committee voted to move five nominations to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a vote in the full Senate, Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), issued the following statement:
"It's good news for workers that these vital nominations to the NLRB have passed out of committee and are headed to the full Senate. The importance of the NLRB to American workers cannot be overstated. The NLRB is charged with enforcing our nation's labor laws and serves as a means of recourse for workers who have been illegally fired, had their wages stolen or faced other unfair labor practices on the job. We've heard story after story of workers who are still waiting for justice because their cases are facing legal delays related to the legitimacy of the current NLRB members. Confirming all five nominees to the NLRB would enable it to get back to work on behalf of both workers and employers and eliminate the uncertainty surrounding its operation.
"Senate Republicans must not block these important nominations and should allow a fair up or down vote."
Committee guards pathway to citizenship without burdensome barriers and delivers strong bipartisan bill
WASHINGTON, DC - Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee reached the finish line with a bipartisan immigration bill that maintains roadmap to citizenship at the center of reform legislation.
"We can now turn the hourglass around and begin a new stage in America's fight for commonsense immigration reform. Despite a few attempts to poison the consensus issue of the bill, Senators in bipartisan fashion upheld a clear and direct pathway to citizenship for the millions of aspiring citizens in America," stated Eliseo Medina, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary-Treasurer.
"The fight is far from over. Although we celebrate this step forward, the consensus of Americans who want nothing more but to fix our current immigration system cannot and will not rest until the President signs a smart and fair immigration bill this year.
"Our responsibility as a community of diverse people and the duty of the House and Senate is to deliver a strong immigration solution that will lead aspiring Americans to citizenship, strengthen the unity of families and protect all working families."