We convened this summit because we believe that this is a country where if we work hard, everybody should be able to get ahead; that the story of America has been each successive generation, getting an education where they could, working hard, saving, scrimping, making sure their kids get a little something better, hoping that at the end of the day they’re able to have a home of their own and be able to retire with some dignity and some respect, have basic benefits so that if they get sick, their families aren’t bankrupt.
And make no mistake, Americans have been working harder than ever to bring this country back, to move it forward. …
Wages need to rise more quickly. We need jobs to offer the kind of pay and benefits that let people raise a family. And in order to do that, workers need a voice. They need the voice and the leverage that guarantees this kind of middle-class security. …
We’ve got folks who are getting a paycheck driving for Uber or Lyft; people who are cleaning other people’s houses through Handy; offering their skills on TaskRabbit. And so there’s flexibility and autonomy and opportunity for workers. And millennials love working their phones much quicker than I can. (Laughter.) And all this is promising. But if the combination of globalization and automation undermines the capacity of the ordinary worker and the ordinary family to be able to support themselves, if employers are able to use these factors to weaken workers’ voices and give them a take-it-or-leave-it deal in which they don’t have a chance to ever save for the kind of retirement they’re looking for, if we don’t refashion the social compact so that workers are able to be rewarded properly for the labor that they put in … then we’re going to have problems. …
Labor unions were often the driving force for progress. The 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, health insurance, retirement plans. The middle class itself was built on a union label. (Applause.) And that middle class that was built was the engine of our prosperity. And people at the top were doing just fine during these periods. …
The bottom line is, as union membership has fallen, inequality has risen. Union membership today is as low as it’s been in about 80 years, since the ‘30s. And I believe that when folks attack unions, they’re attacking the middle class. They’re attacking cops, firefighters, teachers, nurses, service workers, public servants, auto workers, plumbers, Americans who keep our streets safe and clean, who prepare our food, who clean up after us, who care for our aging parents.
And so, in today’s economy, we should be making it easier, not harder, for folks to join a union. We should be strengthening our labor laws, not rolling them back. (Applause.) And for contractors or workers who can’t join unions, we should be finding new avenues for them to join together and advocate for themselves as well. …
So we’re here today to think about where do we go next. We’ve got to ask ourselves: What does the next generation of American jobs look like? How do we make sure those jobs reward hard work? At a time of shrinking union membership, but a growing number of digital tools for organizing, how do we make sure everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?
And how do we change public attitudes so that people who are frustrated feel empowered and not isolated? …
So I’m sure there are going to be a lot of ideas coming out of these discussions, but these are the guideposts that we need to stay focused on: Good pay; benefits; workplace safety; work-family balance; skills training; the freedom to organize. That’s what unions secured for us. That’s what we have to secure for the next generation of workers.
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Wall Street Journal: “The Price We Pay for Sitting Too Much”
New research is helping medical experts devise formulas for how long a typical office worker should spend sitting and standing. … “The key is breaking up your activity throughout the day,” said Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University. “Sitting all day and standing all day are both bad for you,” he said.
Huffington Post: “The Age Of Surveillance At Work Is Upon Us”
The real economic threat of automation is constant measurement of employees’ performance. In the future, no small amount of slacking off at your desk will go unnoticed.
Unions and communities have been fighting all over the map at the level of city (and sometimes state) government to raise minimum wages. Right-to-work battles have been happening in numerous state capitals, and in counties in Kentucky.
But Washington DC may be where the fate of the American labor movement is decided. Scott Walker gone from the presidential race and with him, his proposal for a national right-to-work law. But the 2016 election campaign will see two major developments: a White House summit on labor next week, and more far-reaching, a US Supreme Court decision by next year that could make Walker’s dream of destroying public sector unions come true after all, no matter what this or the next President does.
The Nation: “Unions in Jeopardy”
For decades the Supreme Court supported rules to protect collective bargaining. That era is over. … The legion of resulting decisions reflects the common-sense understanding that every employee who benefits from a negotiated contract should contribute to the costs of securing that contract. …
What hangs in the balance is not justAbood and the decades of precedents that rest on it, but one of the few remaining ways for working Americans to band together and get ahead.
Politico Morning Shift: “Unions Launch Coalition On Friedrichs”
AFSCME President Lee Saunders used Walker’s departure to issue a warning to any Republican presidential candidates who would nominate Supreme Court justices to “further rig the rules for the wealthy.” We’re guessing Saunders was thinking especially about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case the high court will take up in the coming term in which it may well overrule its 1977 Abood precedent and prohibit the collection of non-member “fair share fees.” That would deal a serious financial blow to the still-robust public sector union movement.
Conservative groups like the Cato Institute, Pacific Legal Foundation and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have already flooded the case’s docket with amicus briefs arguing that forcing workers to pay fair share fees compels political speech in violation of the First Amendment.
AFSCME will file briefs of its own, but it’s also launching a new coalition to publicize what’s at stake in the case. The campaign, called “America Works Together,” aims to “protect the rights of public service workers to negotiate together,” according to AFSCME, SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and various other participating unions and pro-labor groups.
Expect the campaign to talk up growing support for labor unions amid rising economic inequality. “America’s economy has swung out of balance,” said Dovard Howard, a technician at a treatment plant in Riverside, California, in a statement provided by the coalition. “It’s getting harder to get by, let alone get ahead. Almost no one stands up for average Americans these days, and now this Supreme Court case threatens to make it even worse.”
Politico Morning Shift: “Heritage Plans Rival To White House Worker Summit”
The conservative Heritage Foundation has scheduled a Summit on Workers’ Empowerment to compete with the White House’s upcoming Summit on Worker Voice. The Heritage event will be held the day before the White House’s Oct. 7 affair. “The White House event the next day will feature many workers arguing that the lack of union representation is holding workers back, and that policies designed to increase union membership will benefit workers,” Heritage’s James Sherk said in a statement. “For some workers that may be the case. But many other workers do not find what unions offer relevant to their needs — or have found that joining a union hurt their working conditions.”
Politico Morning Shift: “Mark Your Calendar: White House Union Summit”
The White House will hold a “Summit on Worker Voice” Oct. 7 to discuss the “value of collective bargaining” and look at other “innovative ways that workers are coming together to have a voice in their workplaces,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez confirmed Wednesday.
Politico: “White House to hold worker summit”
Medium: “Stronger Together: Your Voice in the Workplace Matters”
By US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez
And as we’ve seen throughout our history, one necessary ingredient of shared prosperity is working people banding together and raising their voices.
By doing just that, the labor movement has made our country better. We have them to thank for the eight-hour work day and the weekend. We have them to thank for safer, healthier workplaces. …
These benefits — benefits that most of us take for granted today — weren’t inevitable. They were demanded by the working people of this nation — people who wanted to go to work each day and return home with their dignity and a decent wage; people who wanted their chance to reach for the American Dream.
Also see today’s right-to-work story: “Wisconsin: The more things change, the more they don’t”
Politico: “White House planning worker summit”
The Obama administration is planning a White House summit on worker issues, POLITICO has learned. The event, tentatively set for the fall, is still in its earliest planning stages, and may turn out to be a series of White House events rather than just one. It will include discussion of how to encourage collective bargaining, a source close to the discussions said.
Vice President Joe Biden hit opponents of organized labor in remarks to a firefighters union on Monday, invoking a term closely associated with interwar European fascism in describing those who are “intent on breaking” unions. …
“There is a concentrated, well-organized, well-paid, well-funded effort to undermine organized labor in the United States of America, and they’ve been remarkably successful,” he added. “Because they know without you, it’s a clear shot for whatever they want. That’s why they’re so intent on breaking you and diminishing your voice.”
Wisconsin would be the 25th state to go right-to-work, putting fully half the country under laws that allow employees to opt out of paying dues, …
But now, with Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky eying similar measures, right to work could soon be a solid majority. As more states feel they’ve been put at a competitive disadvantage by their neighbors, the pressure only increases to follow suit. And after a while, a national right-to-work law might not be far behind.
“I suspect that will happen within the next decade,” says Marquita Walker, an associate professor of labor studies at Indiana University. A similar setback could come a lot sooner for public employee unions, in the form of a Supreme Court case that might drastically undermine their ability to collect dues.
The Atlantic: “The End of Public-Employee Unions?”
The Supreme Court has been asked to take a case that could deal a crippling blow to the labor movement. …
The “fair share” fee is (Justice Samuel) Alito’s current target. In a 1977 case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Burger Court said the fees do not violate the First Amendment: “Public employees are not basically different from private employees,” the Court said. …
In the 2014 case of Harris v. Quinn, the Court faced a new challenge to “fair-share” payments by a group of home-health workers funded by a federal-state program. Though the workers were hired and supervised by the clients whose homes they worked in, the Illinois legislature voted to allow them to vote for a bargaining agent, and they chose the Service Employees International Union. Plaintiffs objected to the fees, and asked the Court to overturn Abood once and for all. In the end, however, the majority chose not to overturn Abood; instead, it reasoned that the home-health care workers were not “full-fledged” state employees, and thus the state had no need for “labor peace,” as it might at a school or a government office. …
Overturning Abood would … be a radical step. The temptation must be great, and even if the Court declines this chance, others will come.
ProPublica/NPR Investigation: “The Demolition of Workers’ Comp”
Until recently, America’s workers could rely on a compact struck at the dawn of the Industrial Age: They would give up their right to sue. In exchange, if they were injured on the job, their employers would pay their medical bills and enough of their wages to help them get by while they recovered.
No longer. Over the past decade, state after state has been dismantling America’s workers’ comp system with disastrous consequences for many of the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer serious injuries at work each year, …
The cutbacks have been so drastic in some places that they virtually guarantee injured workers will plummet into poverty. …
ProPublica’s review of workers’ comp changes nationwide found that many were steered by big business, aided by the recent Republican takeovers of state legislatures.