Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Statement by Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt on President Obama’s State of the Union Address


We strongly support the vision laid out by President Obama on supporting infrastructure and American innovation to create good jobs right here in the United States.

The working families of Wisconsin are ready to work with the President and hold him to his promise. Labor, business and everyday Wisconsinites are united in our desire to strengthen our economy and communities -- by rebuilding schools, bridges, highways and investing in green jobs.

A spending freeze, however, will slow down job growth -- it's simply the wrong medicine at the wrong time. And it is essential to preserve our retirement security programs -- Social Security and Medicare.

We must move to put the 112, 082 unemployed Wisconsinites back to work and rebuild bargaining power and good jobs for our middle class.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Urgent Alert: Workers Paid 8 Cents for Each $25 NFL T-shirt They Sew

The National Labor Committee

DATE: Monday, January 24, 2011
TO: NLC Contacts
FROM: Charles Kernaghan
RE: Urgent Alert: Workers Paid 8 Cents for Each $25 NFL T-shirt They Sew

Women at the Ocean Sky sweatshop in El Salvador are paid just eight cents for each $25 NFL T-shirt they sew. Their wages amount to just 3/10ths of one percent of the NFL shirt’s retail price!

Workers NFL, Reebok, Puma, Old Navy (GAP), Columbia, Talbots and Penguin (Munsingwear) are drenched in their own sweat…Drinking water is filthy…They are cursed at…Garments hurled in their faces…Surveillance cameras monitor the workers’ every move…Overtime is forced…Wages of 72 to 92 cents an hour—one quarter of what a family needs to survive… Anyone even asking for their rights will be immediately fired and blacklisted.

Read full report

Don’t let NFL, Reebok, Puma, GAP and the other companies get away with it. Their corporate codes of conduct and corporate monitoring have failed miserably.

The U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement has ended in a race to the bottom, with workers stripped of their rights and trapped in poverty.

Ask the U.S. Government to finally implement the worker rights provisions in the US-CAFTA. Right now, only corporations have rights. But the workers want to be treated like human beings.

Please help.

We are calling upon U.S. and Salvadoran Government officials, along with representatives of the NFL, Reebok, Puma, GAP and the other labels to travel to El Salvador and meet face to face with the Ocean Sky workers.

Sign the petition

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Statement by Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis on Bureau of Labor Statistics report on union members in 2010

WASHINGTON – ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis issued the following statement regarding the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual “Union Members – 2010” report released on Friday, January 21.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that, in 2010, the unionization rate of employed wage and salary workers was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent in 2009. Among private sector employees, the rate dropped to 6.9 percent from 7.2 percent in 2009.

“The data also shows the median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary union members were $917 per week, compared to $717 for workers not represented by unions. For Latinos, the wage disparity is even greater with union members earning an average of $771 compared to $512 for workers not represented by unions, a difference of 33.6 percent.

“When coupled with existing data showing that union members have access to better health care, retirement and leave benefits, today’s numbers make it clear that union jobs are not only good jobs, they are central to restoring our middle class.

“As workers across the country continue to face lower wages and difficulty finding work due to the recent recession, these numbers demonstrate the pressing need to provide workers with a voice in the workplace and protect their right to organize and bargain collectively.”

(From the Secretary of Labor regarding the Bureau of Labor Statistics union member report for 2010)

Events in Tucson

Twelve days ago the entire country was shocked by the tragic events in Tucson. Congresswoman Giffords now begins a long road to recovery.

If APWU members, particularly veterans, would like to send get well wishes and to thank her for support in the past they can do so by simply clicking the link below:

Special Session Serves Corporate Special Interests, Not Job Creation

Statement from Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt:

Governor Walker called a Special Legislative Session under the guise of job creation.  Yet there is scarcely a job associated with any of the four bills that passed this week.  These new laws will add millions of dollars to Wisconsin’s deficit, chip away at the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, and amount to a handout for companies who have made no employment commitments in return.

Rather than pushing for measures that would alleviated the jobs crisis, Senate Bill 1 blatantly places the interests of negligent employers over the needs of workers injured or killed on the job.  It also strips the citizens of Wisconsin of important consumer protections.  This so-called reform doesn’t create a single job, and yet, it does immeasurable harm to ordinary people seeking justice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

OSHA at 40: Time for a Makeover

Tom O’Connor |  January 14, 2011

The notion that Democrats and Republicans could come together and enact legislation that would protect American workers from on-the-job injury or death seems almost unthinkable today, but almost exactly 40 years ago, that is precisely what happened.

On December 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, a compromise that sought to “assure every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources,” according to its text.

The OSH Act has saved many thousands of lives. If workers had the same risk of death on the job as they did in 1933, government figures estimated that OSHAJimWest40,000 more workers would die every year.

But today, the regulatory system that is the legacy of that landmark legislation is broken. The OSH Act has not been significantly updated since it became law and OSHA is hopelessly overmatched, struggling to oversee a 21st century workplace with 20th century tools. Nearly 5,000 American workers pay the price every year—with their lives.

OSHA is woefully understaffed, given the magnitude of its task. A mere 2,000 inspectors endeavor to cover more than 7 million worksites. The sanctions they can use against employers who routinely flout the law are too weak to function as deterrents.

When violations are discovered—all too often after the tragic fact—the penalties are laughable. The average penalty for a violation resulting in a worker’s death is only about $4,000.

Criminal penalties are nearly impossible to impose, even in cases of reckless disregard for workers’ lives. As a result, far too many employers make the calculation that it is simply cheaper to pay the fine, if they are one of the few who are caught, than it is to invest in a safe workplace.

Other federal agencies overseeing health, safety, and environmental regulations—from EPA to the FDA—all have been updated in the years since they were created to reflect changing circumstances. OSHA simply has not kept pace.

The fact is, OSHA will never have sufficient resources to protect all American workers. OSHA investigators cannot be everywhere at once.


We need to rethink how to make workplaces safe. The answer lies not in developing new OSHA standards on a one-by-one basis. This process has produced important worker protections in the last 40 years, but business and industry interests have learned that they can block new regulations indefinitely by constant legal challenges and political pressure. As a result, new OSHA standards to protect workers have become exceedingly rare.

A whole new approach has been proposed by OSHA Director David Michaels. His new Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard, if enacted, would require employers to assess their workplaces, determine what hazards are present, and come up with solutions.

The standard doesn’t tell employers exactly how they should prevent hazards, but instead provides flexibility in determining the best way to protect employees.

How would this avoid giving employers giant loopholes? Who’s to check? OSHA inspectors, already overstretched, would need a bigger enforcement budget, certainly.

But to stand any chance of success, these efforts must include meaningful worker participation. Workers know the hazards in their workplaces better than anyone. They must be allowed to participate actively in identifying workplace hazards and they must have the right to stop work, without fear of retaliation, if a hazardous situation develops.

Giving workers that measure of control over workplace safety in an environment of 7.2 percent private-sector union density would be no small feat. Health and safety advocates agree that safety committees should be mandatory in union workplaces. But in non-union shops, would a boss-dominated safety committee be desirable?

Workers, with or without a union, need new rights to protect themselves. Armed with that confidence, the workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig and at the Upper Big Branch Mine might have been able to prevent last year’s disasters at their workplaces.

Without it, we’ll be stuck in the same piecemeal system that fails to address the total picture of safety on the job—and wait for the next workplace disaster to strike.

Tom O’Connor is executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a coalition of unions, health and technical professionals, and others interested in promoting worker health and safety.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 17)


Click on cartoon to enlarge

Working Families Oppose Senate Bill 1/ Assembly Bill 1 Tort Reform

Labor and community groups hold press conference to urge Legislature to focus on job creation

(Madison, WI) – Labor and community groups gathered this afternoon in the State Capitol to express concern over Special Session Senate Bill 1/ Assembly Bill 1 Tort Reform. This is the first initiative of the emergency economic session and contains numerous changes to Wisconsin’s civil justice system which will negatively impact workers and their families.

“Unfortunately, the special session on job creation is being used as a cloak for corporate interests to achieve a long-desired goal – to deny meaningful access to the courts for workers who are injured or killed on the job, as well as consumers and other victims who have been harmed,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

The Bill would have the following consequences for workers and the community:

· Changes punitive damages criteria for those injured on the job. Victims of at work accidents will now have the burden of proving that the injury was “intended” by the employer in order to be awarded punitive damages. This new heightened standard effectively closes the courthouse door to most victims of egregious conduct resulting in serious injury or death.

· Changes to product liability law that encourage the export of jobs. The bill requires that victims harmed by faulty products seek compensation from the manufacturer first. Since it is near impossible to track down manufacturers and pursue legal remedies in countries such as China, this bill creates a perverse incentive to shift more manufacturing jobs out of Wisconsin.

· Eliminates retailer responsibility for harmful products sold in sealed packages. This means that if a child is injured by a faulty toy the family has limited rights and options.

· Limits the rights of nursing home resident’s families to protect their loved one from negligent care. The bill changes legal standards for nursing homes making it significantly harder to hold institutions accountable.

“The legal climate sought by business through this legislation is one that nearly eliminates accountability to citizens for corporate wrongdoing and recklessness. This is not about job creation. This is an extreme shift in the balance of the law to dramatically favor corporate interest over ordinary people,” concluded Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

Organizational sponsors of the press conference include the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, and the Wisconsin Association for Justice.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO launches Wisconsin Jobs Campaign

Labor unions and community allies hold Governor Walker accountable for the creation of family-supporting jobs

(Milwaukee, WI) -  Governor Walker made job creation a centerpiece of his campaign with a promise to create 250,000 jobs for Wisconsin within his first term.  The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, along with community groups and concerned citizens, intend to hold Governor Walker accountable for the promised jobs and to ensure that any job created includes family supporting wages and benefits. 

“Wisconsin needs jobs and it needs jobs now.  Temporary, part-time work is different than a full-time job with benefits.  The goal of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO is to make certain that new jobs are stable jobs that can support a family.  The Wisconsin Jobs Campaign will be a way to track how many jobs are created or lost over the next four years.  I look forward to cheering Governor Walker on to our mutual goal of job creation,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin starts with a substantially larger jobs deficit because of Governor Walker's rejection of federal funds for a high-speed passenger rail line that would have created thousands of jobs.  However, it is the hope of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO that our state can overcome the deficit and create 250,000+ good jobs. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

From progressive to regressive: Wis. GOP declares war on workers

by Mike Konopacki and Kathy Wilkes

Wisconsin governor-elect Scott Walker and the new Republican legislature have declared war on working people. They want to abolish public employee unions and turn Wisconsin into a so-called “right-to-work” state, meaning no more “union shops” and no more dues from anyone who objects. This also means no more pressure from anywhere to keep wages at a livable level for anyone, union or not.IB Image

It’s all under the guise of cutting the State’s $3 billion budget deficit and creating 250,000 jobs. Sound familiar? Since the Reagan era, Republicans and corporate Democrats have pushed the big lie that tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and busting unions would bring jobs and prosperity. Instead we got the Great Recession. And now the people of

Wisconsin have voted to cure the disease with more disease and turn our state into an economic dictatorship.

Harsh words? You bet. Reality is worse. One of the first things dictators do is go after organized labor:

- When Hitler outlawed “trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike, the German worker in the Third Reich became an industrial serf, bound to his master, the employer, much as medieval peasants had been bound to the lord of the manor,” writes William Shirer in his classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. This was done “democratically” when Germany’s parliament passed the 1934 Charter of Labor that “put the worker in his place and raised the employer to his old position of absolute master.”

- Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini abolished free trade unions.

- Communist China—America’s banker and manufacturer—only allows government-controlled unions.

Walker won’t round up labor leaders and have them jailed as Hitler did; he just wants them neutered. And there’s no comparison with Mussolini, who reportedly made the trains run on time. Walker hates trains; he lost us $810 million dollars and 5,500 jobs opposing high-speed rail. And where China requires even antiunion Wal-Mart to be unionized, Walker would never permit such an outrage.

A better comparison is Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, and L. Paul Bremer. In 1987 the Iraqi dictator declared that workers in his huge state enterprises were civil servants and therefore prohibited from forming unions and bargaining collectively. After Bush invaded Iraq, Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority abolished all of Saddam’s laws but one: the ban on labor unions.

For 80 years, Republican plutocrats have chipped away at “New Deal” laws that raised millions of families out of poverty and into the middle class. They’ve busted union membership down from 35% of the private sector in the 1950s to less than 8% today. Wages stagnated while income inequality soared. From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in incomes went to the richest 1% percent, which now owns more wealth than the bottom 90%.

Republicans don’t care about creating jobs or cutting deficits. GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan, for example, sat idly by as the remains of his district’s auto industry were dismantled, leaving Racine, Kenosha, and Janesville the most economically depressed cities in the state. Instead he plotted to privatize Social Security, despite the Wall Street debacle, and promoted tax cuts for the rich, despite the ballooning deficit.

If Republicans win their war against workers, we face dire consequences. As Shirer observed, “Between the Right and Left, Germany lacked a politically powerful middle class, which in other countries – in France, in England, in the United States – had proved to be the backbone of democracy.”

Mike Konopacki is a labor cartoonist in Madison. Kathy Wilkes is a Madison writer and editor.

Most Americans Say Tax Rich to Balance Budget: Poll 81% Say Tax Rich or Cut Military; 3% Say Cut Social Security

Most Americans think the United States should raise taxes for the rich to balance the budget, according to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll released on Monday.

[Full Story]

Published on Tuesday, January 4, 2011 by Reuters