Monday, December 29, 2008

An Advocate for Shared Prosperity

Joe Diecedue of Conway, a state general agent for American Income Life Insurance Co., contributed this op-ed article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It makes good sense, and we think it should be read by all middle class working families in Arkansas -- and their employers.

"It is an indisputable fact: Our economy is faltering. America's working people are struggling to make ends meet, and our middle class is disappearing.

Recently, President-elect Barack Obama said that now is not the time for small plans, now is the time for bold action to rebuild and renew America. I'm a businessman, and to me his words mean that we need to recreate shared prosperity for all.

I moved to Arkansas three years ago to run my own business. I was shocked at the lower wage scale and the number of hard-working families without health care. Arkansas' median income is $10,000 less than the national average. I see families every day struggling to get by.

And sure, we need an economic recovery plan that invests in roads, infrastructure and a green economy, but it doesn't end there. As a businessman, I see the best short-term strategic, sustainable solution as more local and immediate: paying workers higher wages that puts immediate money into the economy.

As an owner of a business with a unionized workforce, I am outraged at the attacks, including repeatedly in this paper, being made against those in organized labor and their allies in their efforts to reform labor law in this country. Historically, collective bargaining agreements have resulted in building a robust middle class with true shared prosperity.

Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act would want you to believe that the sky will fall if workers are given the free choice to decide on a union. Get real. The sky is already falling. Unfortunately, the sky is falling in on working families, not the CEOs and financiers who have made their hundreds of millions and created this mess.

Let me set the record straight on what the Employee Free Choice Act does.

First, it increases penalties for employers who break the law by firing or intimidating workers during the organizing process. Seventy-eight percent of private employers require supervisors to deliver anti-union messages to the workers whose jobs and pay they control.

Second, it guarantees that once workers decide to form a union, they will get a first contract. Currently, only one in three workplaces ever get a contract after deciding to form a union, and more than half of U.S. workers, nearly 60 million, say they would join a union right now if they could. This is an urgent crisis for workers, blocking their free will and their ability to get ahead.

Third, it gives workers, not companies, the choice about how they want to form a union-through majority sign-up or a so-called election where the company holds all the cards.

I think it makes sense for workers to choose how they want to form a union; after all, it's their organization.

Corporations give CEOs contracts that protect their pay and benefits, but they deny employees the same opportunity. As a result, good jobs are vanishing and health care coverage and retirement security are slipping out of reach. According to a recent survey, only 38 percent of the public say their families are getting ahead financially and less than one-quarter believe the next generation will be better off.

I am both a selfish and a smart businessman. I sell life insurance. If a family makes a decent wage and has decent benefits, then it can protect itself in all areas of life. Workers who belong to unions earn 30 percent more than nonunion workers. They are 62 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage and four times more likely to have pensions.

The way I run my agency and create more jobs is like this. I want to have more workers making more money and in a position to buy life insurance to protect their loved ones. Greed is in all of our self-interest. When a worker does well, business does well. Business can sell and retain customers who can afford to pay. No one wins when everyone struggles.

It is not the time to pit worker against worker. It is wrong to begrudge a worker health care benefits or the promise of a small pension. We need to quit thinking small and start believing that all workers deserve a good job, good pay and good benefits. The Employee Free Choice Act puts away the small plans and will help recreate shared prosperity.

In a renewed America, shared prosperity is good for everyone"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Toys for Peace at Home Kids

This year's AFSCME Local 965 community gift is the toy drive for children who will be spending the holidays at the Peace at Home shelter. Gifts are being collected for children four years old and younger, and you still have time to contribute to the project.

Please bring age appropriate toys or a check to purchase toys to AFSCME 965 Secretary Theresa Sims by Monday, December 22. Give her a call at 575-3108 to drop off toys or a contribution.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hilda Solis Great Choice for Labor

President-elect Barack Obama today announced that he will nominate Congresswoman Hilda Solis as his Secretary of Labor. Solis is serving her fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 32nd Congressional District of California. Prior to her election to Congress, Solis served eight years in the California state legislature. As a California State Senator, she led the battle to increase the state's minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 an hour in 1996. In August 2000, Solis became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her pioneering work on environmental justice issues in California.

In accepting the nomination today, Congresswoman Solis said,
“I am humbled and honored to be nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as Secretary of Labor. As a daughter of immigrants raised in La Puente, a community near East Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley, I learned from a young age the value of hard work, public service, and commitment to family.

“That is why I share President-elect Obama's belief in an America where if you work hard anything is possible. An America that values and rewards hard work. An America where we can both be standing on this stage today. But for too many Americans, that America is slipping further and further away.

“As Secretary of Labor, I will work to strengthen our unions and support every American in our nation's diverse workforce.

“I look forward to working with President-elect Obama to reinvest in workforce training, build effective pipelines to provide at-risk youth and underserved communities with sustainable skills, and support high-growth industries by training the workers they need.

“This includes promoting green collar jobs. These are jobs that will provide economic security for working families while securing our energy supply and combating climate change.

“We also must enforce federal labor laws and strengthen regulations to protect our nation's workers, such as wage and hour laws, and rules regarding overtime pay and pay discrimination. Through these and other efforts we can help strengthen one of America's greatest assets - its labor force."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UA Student Speaks for Economic Justice

Here in Fayetteville, most working people understand that the ability to come together to achieve better living standards and ensure certain fundamental rights sustains our middle class and drives our economy.

Individually, a single worker can’t provide for the national defense, promote the general welfare, or ensure that the basic human rights to a living wage and adequate education are met, but, collectively, citizens can come together and work with management and government to build on our history and move the nation forward.

Today, the majority of young Arkansans, and youth nationwide, understand the freedoms that are necessary to continue moving our country forward, especially at this time of transition towards an increasingly service based economy in which many of us will switch jobs several times over.

That’s why we support the right of employees to have a choice to enter or not enter into a union. The Young Democrats of Arkansas have endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act. We feel so strongly that our support is written into our Constitution.

Senator Blanche Lincoln’s recent statements about EFCA reveal the political reality of the time, but what of leaders whose courage and convictions stand the test of time?

What of the lions of yonder who led a chorus of thousands to fight off any and all assaults on the middle class?

In reality, The EFCA, often framed as taking away the secret ballot by ideologues who stick to talking points in the face of facts, still retains the option to engage in the current balloting process or adopt the more democratic and fair card check election process.

Sadly, some, possibly fresh with a press release from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in hand, engage in ad hominem attacks and portray union leaders as intimidators or thugs.

While no one is perfect and we all sin every day, let’s take poisonous ideology out of the important public policy of growing our middle class and focus on real academic evidence and best practices.

The hard data is clear, almost all intimidation in union organizing drives comes from management afraid of union representation and the perception of lost profits that may ensue.

However, too many miss the reality that productivity and profit margins increase with better paid and better situated workers. The best human resource managers have always been willing to sacrifice a little in the form of higher wages for the returns that come back a hundred fold in better employees and production.

If grateful young Arkansans have learned anything from those that came before us, we know we must have the courage of our convictions to implement the common sense solutions our state so urgently needs.

Let us all pray that our leaders in Washington keep faith with Arkansas workers and seek the type of gratitude that stands the test of ages:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me

Guest Contributor

Christopher Burks

Christopher currently serves as President of the University of Arkansas School of Law Democrats and can be reached at

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Research Assistants Organize

In an action that could inspire UA graduate students, Research Assistants at the State University of New York Research Foundation at Stony Brook, N.Y., held firm against a strong anti-union effort to gain representation with Communications Workers of America Local 1104 on Dec. 5, reported District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton. The vote in the NLRB-sponsored election was 214-135 with 35 challenged ballots. Nearly 740 RAs are employed at SUNY's Stony Brook University campus.

The SUNY workers, all doctoral students, are seeking better pay and benefits and fairer treatment from a university administration that has continually claimed that it could not afford to pay them a more livable wage. The RAs are particularly aggrieved over a $500 transportation and technology fee that the institution charges them each semester – a fee that has been waived for graduate and teaching assistants at Stony Brook, who were already represented by Local 1104.

"It doesn't sound like a big deal, but for a lot of RAs making $20,000 a year, $1,000 is a lot," RA Matt Engel, a member of the organizing committee, told Newsday following the victory. "Basically, there has never been a negotiated raise for RAs ever," he said.

Local 1104 represents more than 4,000 graduate and teaching assistants at Stony Brook and in the SUNY system.

Though affiliated with the State University of New York, the privately-managed Research Foundation resorted to captive audience meetings, one-on-ones, and other tactics to squash the RAs' campaign. Management also sought to delay or even block the election by challenging earlier NLRB decisions that allow research assistants the right to organize.

University of Arkansas Research Assistants and Teaching Assistants are eligible for membership and are welcomed in AFSCME Local 965

Blanche Lincoln Votes NO

U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas was one of five Democrats to vote against consideration of the bridge loan to the auto industry. She ignored the plight of thousands of Arkansas workers who manufacture parts for American vehicles and who are in danger of losing their jobs.

If auto workers who are members of the UAW worked for nothing, they could not save auto companies that face a devastating cash crisis in our deep national recession. Yet Blanche Lincoln a handful of Republican senators were so determined to cut workers’ living standards and scapegoat the auto workers union that they were willing to block the bipartisan proposal for a bridge loan to the American auto industry and play Russian roulette with our economy. That is outrageous. This group of minority senators failed to act as stewards of the American public.

Millions of jobs are at risk. According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, 3.3 million jobs across all 50 states and all sectors could be lost – on top of the 1.9 million jobs already cut by employers this year – if one or more auto companies fail.

Misinformation about auto workers’ livelihoods has been spread throughout this debate, Even so, the UAW was prepared to make further sacrifices, just as the auto companies had done, not only to save the industry but prevent economic collapse. But nothing would satisfy the ideologically motivated Republican senators, who saw no reason to impose salary concessions when bailing out the banks.

We cannot boost the economy by legislating a race to the bottom or attacking decent jobs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Worker Rights are Human Rights

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day, and all across the country local union members like you made a strong statement about the importance of workers' rights.

Despite being the world's wealthiest country, the United States still lags far behind in protecting the ability of workers to organize. Around the world, more than 70 other countries provide a fair way for workers to form a union. The United States isn't one of them.

The Communication Workers of America, represently local AT&T employees in Northwest Arkansas, is leading a powerful mobilization effort today to change that by making sure that Congress is ready to move forward on Employee Free Choice Act, a crucial bill that would allow workers to organize free of employer intimidation. It's up to us to make sure this legislation makes it through the United States Senate with strong support.

You can make a real difference by calling our Senators right now and urging them to support the Employee Free Choice Act. Here are their names and phone numbers:

Blanche Lincoln:

(202) 224-4843

Mark Pryor:

(202) 224-2353

And here is an example of what you can say to the person who answers the phone:

"Hello, my name is __________ and I am one of the Senator's constituents. I'm calling to ask the Senator to stand with working Americans by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill will help protect workers' rights and strengthen the middle class. Will the Senator support this legislation?"

Please be part of today's mobilization effort. Call your Senators, and then click here to let us know you called:

This legislation is the single most important way to protect workers from companies who intimidate, mislead, threaten, and even fire their employees during the organizing process. The bill would let workers choose between a vote and a simple majority sign-up system to decide on having union representation in their workplace, and restoring fairness to a system that has been dominated by employers for far too long.

Workers' rights are human rights. We’re counting on you to help U.S. workers make their voices heard.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama Backs Union Workers

Obama: Laid-Off Workers Occupying Factory in Chicago Are 'Absolutely Right'

By Abdon Pallasch, The Chicago Sun-Times

Note: About 250 union workers occupied the Republic Windows and Doors plant in shifts Saturday, saying they won't go home without assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay, while union leaders outside criticized a Wall Street bailout they say is leaving laborers behind.

President-elect Barack Obama put himself on the side of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday:

“When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

“When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

“Number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so we are not seeing these kinds of circumstances again,’’ he said. “Have we done everything that we can to make sure credit is flowing to businesses and to families, and to students who are trying to get loans? And to homeowners who have been making payments on their homes but are still finding their property values so depressed that it becomes very difficult for them to make the mortgage payments?

“That’s where the rubber hits the road and that’s going to be the central focus of my administration.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Buy American and Save Jobs

It's never been more important to support America's workers and our economy by using your holiday shopping dollars for union-made-in-the-USA gifts for your family and friends. What better way to share your values and demonstrate your commitment to helping rebuild the American economy than to buy 100 percent union-made gifts?

The Union Shop Online has an extensive collection of clothes, games and books for kids, tons of great stocking stuffers and holiday cards galore. Thank you for your support and activism over the years, and America’s workers thank you for buying union-made in the USA.

Not sure what your uncle/sister/brother in-law likes? How about getting them a Union Shop Online Gift Certificate?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How Are Things for You?

We want to hear from you. Please take our very brief member survey about the economic crisis.

In the past month, President-elect Obama has made signing an economic recovery bill his top priority once he takes office. AFSCME believes that aid to state and local governments must be a cornerstone of the economic recovery package that Congress and the new administration will put forth in the coming weeks.

We must protect jobs and the vital services AFSCME members provide. You can help.

How are you feeling about what's happening in Arkansas with you and your family? Where you work? Let us know here.

As public service workers, AFSCME members know first hand that when local and state government budgets are squeezed, services become harder to provide.

  • Rhode Island has cut health care coverage for 1,000 low-income parents.
  • New Jersey has cut funds for charity care in hospitals.
  • And Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are just some of the states where funding for K-12 education is being dramatically cut.
What's worse: The need for the services and programs that state and local governments provide continues to grow while their ability to meet this responsibility shrinks.

We're collecting information about how the state and local budget crises are affecting AFSCME members on the job and off the job. Please take our quick member survey to let us know.