The Future for Black Workers

The AFL-CIO on Feb. 4 launched the first in a series of nationwide symposiums to address the growing economic inequality among U.S. workers – particularly African Americans. Working in partnership with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the AFL-CIO intends to identify the many ways systemic racism affects black workers, and provide real policy solutions to address the growing disparity.

The typical black household now has just 6 percent of the wealth of the typical white household, according to a Demos report, “The Racial Wealth Gap.” “We need to fix the rules of our economy to treat everyone the same,” said AFL-CIO Exec. Vice. Pres. Tefere Gebre in his welcome address. People of color need the biggest ladder to move up to the middle class, and that way is through public-sector employment, he added.

The steady loss of public-sector jobs after the Great Recession disproportionately affected African Americans. And with the looming threat of an adverse decision in the Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the black middle class might become obsolete.    

“We realize that black workers are the canary in the mines. Everything that happens to labor will happen to us harder,” cautioned the Rev. Terry Melvin, president of CBTU and co-author of “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor.”

“Black workers comprise the segment of the working class that normally is subject to the forward thrusts of employer offensives. It is the segment of the working class that suffers the most from unemployment and underemployment,” the report concludes.

Now more than ever, African-American workers need good jobs with strong benefits and wages. And just as urgently, labor needs to organize black workers to grow the labor movement.

The Future for Black Workers

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Ledbetter Law Important First Step to Fair Pay

Today marks seven years since President Obama signed into law a bill designed to help prevent wage discrimination based on gender. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named after the woman whose case against Goodyear went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be rejected on a technicality, was the first piece of legislation the President signed because it was so important.

It still is, but there is much work to be done to make the promise of the federal law a reality for all women in America. Despite the law, women still make only 79 cents, on average, for every dollar a man makes. The gap is even greater for women of color.

Lilly Ledbetter’s story is one that never should have happened, and it bears repeating. A worker for a Goodyear tire factory in Alabama, she worked hard at a management-level job for 19 years, believing that she was compensated fairly, like every other woman and man who did what she did. But an anonymous note let her know the truth: During the course of her career, she had lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits.

A sex discrimination suit followed. She won, then lost on appeal. Eventually the case was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of receiving her first unequal check – even though she couldn’t have known that at the time. With encouragement from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented from the majority opinion, Ledbetter kept up her fight for justice. That justice was finally received on Jan. 29, 2009 when President Obama signed the bill into law.

To end this discrimination based on gender, we need to pass other laws at the federal, state and local levels to make sure that the protections of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act exist in every workplace. The Economic Policy Institute lists 12 policy proposals that are critical to raising the wages of both women and men. The top three are:

  • Raising the minimum wage.
  • Eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers so that these workers receive the full minimum wage.
  • Strengthening collective bargaining rights.

One key piece of legislation that must be passed is the Paycheck Fairness Act, first introduced in Congress in 2009 but which has not received enough support to get to President Obama’s desk. It was reintroduced last March by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

AFSCME is working with the State Innovation Exchange and other allies in a national action this week called “Equal Pay Can’t Wait,” in which state legislators from more than 20 states will introduce legislation in their states and raise public awareness to ensure that women are paid equally for doing the same work as men.

As AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes has written, “This law would make it easier for employees to share salary information, harder for employers to retaliate, and it would strengthen the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. It is a common-sense solution that levels the playing field and gives millions of women the opportunity to work their way toward financial security.”

AFSCME was an early and ardent supporter of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and has long advocated for closing the gender wage gap because women need an economy that works for everyone. We will never quit until the goal is accomplished.

You can urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses the gender wage gap and the need to raise wages of all workers by clicking here.

Source: News Feed

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Change the Rules, Be the Power: Dr. King Honored with Recommitment to His Ideals

The partnership between minorities and labor has never been more vital than it is today. More than 1,000 labor and community activists explored the power of this solidarity during the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference, Jan. 15-18, sharing tactics to build a collective civil, human and women’s rights agenda for 2016.

Sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the conference honored the legacy of Dr. King with workshops and panels on a variety of topics ranging from political activism, gender equality, racial justice, and organizing communities and workers of color.

Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 while helping striking sanitation workers – members of AFSCME Local 1733 – gain a voice on the job. He strongly supported unions. “[Labor] was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress,” said Dr. King.

The opening panel, Change the Rules, described how labor and Planned Parenthood joined together to fight for all working families. Speaking of the super wealthy, AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka warned, “When they divide us up, they can beat us. When we stick together, they can’t.” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, agreed, recounting how labor supported the organization during attacks on several clinics, threatening women patients and staff.

“Planned Parenthood stood with labor in Wisconsin during the attacks from Scott Walker, and labor had our back,” Richards said. She pointed to the importance of labor-community alliances to ensure that women have access to health care and can make their own decisions about reproduction, as women are increasingly becoming the heads of households.

The importance of organizing working women was later echoed by Johanna Puno Hester, an AFSCME International vice president, during a panel discussion. As more women become their household’s primary breadwinners, union membership can make a difference because women of color on average earn better salaries than non-union women of color earn.

“The value this union brought to an immigrant person is deep,” said Puno Hester referring to when she joined United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930. “Labor needs women of color and women of color need labor.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Terry Melvin, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and member of AFSCME CSEA Local 427. Labor’s growth depends upon organizing women of color, bringing them closer to economic security, Melvin said. “It’s easier to organize black and brown women. If we start doing that organizing then our collective voice as the minority community can be the labor movement.”

The conference weekend included a day of community service, with delegates honoring Dr. King in projects ranging from packing lunches for seniors to cleaning and painting elementary schools, and to serving meals and toiletries for homeless and others in need.

Source: News Feed

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Middle Class Fall Tied Directly to Union Decline

How important are unions to the health of the middle class in the United States? They are vital, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress. In fact, more than one-third of the decline in the middle class during the past 30 years is explained by the decline in union coverage.

“Our main findings are that the decline in union coverage accounts for 35 percent of the falling share of middle-class workers and that the combination of the shrinking share of union workers and the reduction in the union equality effect explains almost half of the decline in middle-class workers,” the authors conclude.

The “union equality effect” refers to the extent that union-induced wage increases spill over from union to nonunion workers and how union advocacy produces economic and social policies that benefit all workers, the authors explain. The study is written by Richard Freeman and Eunice Han of Harvard University, and by Brendan Duke and David Madland of CAP.

The shrinking of the American middle class has been well documented. In its study released in December, the Pew Research Center pointed to a four-decade trend in which the middle class has fallen from 61 percent to 50 percent of the population. With the U.S. economy swinging out of balance, it’s getting hard to get by, let alone get ahead.

The CAP study notes that, despite a 79 percent increase in U.S. labor productivity between 1984 and 2014, “the share of full-time workers who make between 67 percent and 200 percent of median U.S. earnings fell from 68 percent in 1984 to 60 percent in 2014.”

In a companion study back in September 2015, Freeman, Han and the CAP researchers said that unions improve economic mobility not only for workers, but also for children who grow up in areas where union coverage is high.

Despite the positive impact of unions in helping working families gain economic security, we are under a withering attack from rich corporate interests – including in a case argued last week in the Supreme Court, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If the court rules against unions in that case, it will be even more difficult for workers to join together to improve their conditions.

“Making America a middle-class country once again will require policies that raise median earnings and incomes and that bring more workers and households into the middle class,” the study concludes. “Increasing union coverage is important for both, as well as for possibly increasing economic mobility.”

Source: News Feed

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