Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Union Man in Legislature

State Representative Richard Carroll (G - North Little Rock) is a former President of International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local No. 66. Though he cleans up well, his button-down work as a legislator is a far cry from what he really does for a living: a dirty, dangerous job as a boilermaker for the Union Pacific Railroad, Thanks to what he calls his very “civic minded” employer, Carroll has been allowed to work the night shift at the Union Pacific yards in North Little Rock part time so he can come to the legislature during the day. From 11 p.m. to around 3 in the morning, he helps rebuild locomotives that have been damaged in derailments and accidents. He catches a few catnaps before and after work, and sleeps a lot on weekends. “I get a couple hours sleep before I go in to the Capitol,” he said. “I may stay until 7 o'clock, go home, get a couple more hours sleep, then go to work.”

Read the rest of the article in this week's edition of the Arkansas Times.

Southern Labor Holds Steady

Union membership in Southern states held steady in 2008 amidst rising unemployment and a troubled economy, according to an analysis of government statistics released this week. Union membership in Arkansas increased by 6,000 in 2008, growing to 68,000 members.

A review of new Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies finds that the percentage of workers in the South belonging to unions in 2008 stayed at 5.3 percent, the same unionization rate as in 2007.

Among the 13 Southern states included in the Institute analysis, seven showed union gains and six had a net loss in union membership. Nationally, union membership rose from 12.1 percent of employees in 2007 to 12.4 percent in 2008, the second year in a row that unions had shown gains.

SouthLabor Chart.jpgSouthern unions were able to hold their ground despite big job losses in the region. The total number of union members in the South actually declined by 23,000 in 2008, but because the overall Southern workforce shrank even more, the rate of unionized workers stayed the same.

"Southern union members appear to have weathered the economic downturn slightly better than their non-union counterparts, for a number of reasons," said Chris Kromm, director of the non-profit Institute. Likely factors include the kind of industries that have lost jobs, like the largely non-unionized finance sector, and greater job protections enjoyed by union members, Kromm said.

Among other findings of the Institute for Southern Studies analysis of federal labor data:

  • Southern states remain the least unionized in the nation: Of the 12 states nationally with 6 percent or less of their employees in unions, nine were in the South. North Carolina had the lowest rate of unionization, with just 3.5 percent of its workers belonging to a union.
  • Florida, North Carolina and Virginia had the biggest gains in union membership: Florida led the South by adding 27,000 union members in 2008. North Carolina was second with union membership growing by 18,000, including a major election victory in December by the United Food and Commercial Workers at pork processing giant Smithfield Foods.
  • Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas saw the biggest union losses: Georgia alone lost 35,000 union members in 2008, over a third of labor's total losses in the South. Union membership also declined by at least 14,000 in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
The Bureau's 2008 Union Members Survey contained other data of special interest to Southern states:

  • Union Membership by Race: Black workers were more likely to be union members (14.5 percent) than workers who were white (12.2 percent), Asian (10.6 percent), or Hispanic (10.6 percent). Over 40% of African-Americans nationally live in the 13 Southern states included in the Institute's analysis.
  • Union Membership by Sector: Government jobs continue to be important to union membership. The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.8 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.6 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers - including teachers, police officers and fire fighters - had the highest union membership rate, 42.2 percent. In North Carolina and Virginia, unions are mounting campaigns to overturn bans on collective bargaining in public sector jobs.
  • Union Representation of Non-Members: About 1.7 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union on their main job in 2008, while not being union members themselves. All Southern states except Kentucky and West Virginia have "right to work" laws which enable employees to benefit from union contracts without having to join a union.

Your Job

Right now Congress is deciding on nothing less than our jobs.

This week, the House of Representatives voted in favor of $300 billion in aid to state and local governments for Medicaid, education, law enforcement, transportation, unemployment insurance operations and other vital public services. This is a major step forward. Now the bill goes to the Senate—where it faces stiff opposition.

We need you to contact Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor today by clicking here.

This bill, President Obama's "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" is about creating jobs, supporting public services and jobs and getting our economy back on track for working families.

President Obama has called for unity and an end to partisanship. Unfortunately, neither John Boozman nor a single Republican member voted for the House bill. That's why it’s imperative that you contact your senators and urge them to vote YES for the Senate bill. We need Republican and Democratic support together to get it passed.

The Senate will start voting on the bill next week. A brief message from you to our senators can make a difference.

Please act now.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Make America Work. Again

Tens of thousands of new layoffs were announced today, and more companies are expected to cut payrolls in the months ahead. This recession, which started in December 2007, and is expected to stretch into this year, has been a job killer. The economy lost 2.6 million jobs last year, the most since 1945. The unemployment rate jumped to 7.2% in December, the highest in 16 years, and is expected to keep climbing.

This week, Congress begins to vote on the President's economic recovery plan. That's why AFSCME has launched the "Make America Happen" campaign to support President Obama's agenda to get our country back on track.

As public service workers, AFSCME members know first hand the severity of the economic crisis. But with President Barack Obama in the White House and a new Congress in place, things can change for the better—if we all do our part.

As President Obama said in his inaugural address: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it workswhether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

Do you agree? If so, sign the petition calling for bold action to create jobs and jumpstart the economy, make quality health care affordable and strengthen the middle class.

You can read more about our AFSCME campaign at

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rally for Affordable Health Care

State Representative Jim Nickels, a member of AFSCME Local 965 and Executive Director of State Council 38, spoke today on the steps of the State Capitol to 300 people attending the Rally for Affordable Health Care organized by the Arkansas Education Association.

Click here for a 4 minute YouTube video of his inspiring remarks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Labor

"At the turn of the century women earned approximately ten cents an hour, and men were fortunate to receive twenty cents an hour. The average work week was sixty to seventy hours. During the thirties, wages were a secondary issue; to have a job at all was the difference between the agony of starvation and a flicker of life. The nation, now so vigorous, reeled and tottered almost to total collapse. The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over our nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society."

Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965

"When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it is called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it is called a Depression.

"We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you're not getting adequate wages. People are always talking about menial labor. But if you're getting a good (wage) as I know that through some unions they've brought it up...that isn't menial labor. What makes it menial is the income, the wages."

Local 1199 Salute to Freedom, March 1968

"You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth."

AFSCME Memphis Sanitation Strike, April 3, 1968

Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking in support of striking AFSCME sanitation workers at Mason Temple, Memphis, 4/3/68.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

National Day of Service

A new era will be ushered in Tuesday with the inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th president. Meanwhile, all across our country this weekend and Monday, we are celebrating one of America's true heroes, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In honor of King and in response to President-elect Obama's call to service, hundreds of thousands of Americans, including more than 20,000 AFL-CIO union volunteers, are helping those in need. Projects range from giving out free meals to cleaning up blighted areas, distributing winter clothing and repairing dilapidated homes.

In these difficult economic times, union members know that it's more important than ever to come together as communities and help one another. That's why we're rolling up our sleeves and volunteering in our neighborhoods here in Fayetteville.

President-elect Barack Obama's national call to service has inspired AFSCME Local 965 to join in a volunteer cleanup at Greathouse Park, 1710 S. Price in Fayetteville. We will meet there at 10 a.m. on Monday, January 19th. Turning south from 15th Street onto Brooks, left on Walker, then right on Price looks like the most direct route there.

The King Day of Service, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was actually initiated by Congress in 1994 to promote community service grounded in King's teachings of nonviolence and social justice.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

This Miracle Brought to You by America’s Union Members

They're calling it a miracle--the successful landing of a US Airways jet in the Hudson and subsequent rescue of all 155 passengers. They're detailing the heroism of all involved, starting with the pilot and including cabin crew, ferry crews, and first responders. What they're not telling you is that just about every single one of these heroes is a union member.

There's the pilot:

What might have been a catastrophe in New York — one that evoked the feel if not the scale of the Sept. 11 attack — was averted by a pilot’s quick thinking and deft maneuvers,


On board, the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger III, 57, unable to get back to La Guardia, had made a command decision to avoid densely populated areas and try for the Hudson,


When all were out, the pilot walked up and down the aisle twice to make sure the plane was empty, officials said.

Sullenberger is a former national committee member and the former safety chairman for the Airline Pilots Association and now represented by US Airline Pilots Association. He--and his union--have fought to ensure pilots get the kind of safety training to pull off what he did yesterday.

Then there are the flight attendants:

One passenger, Elizabeth McHugh, 64, of Charlotte, seated on the aisle near the rear, said flight attendants shouted more instructions: feet flat on the floor, heads down, cover your heads.

They are members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Yesterday's accident should remind all of us that flight attendants are first and foremost safety professionals--they should not be treated like cocktail waitresses.

There are the air traffic controllers:

The pilot radioed air traffic controllers on Long Island that his plane had sustained a “double bird strike.”

They're represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Someday, they'll rename National Airport for the work these men and women do to keep us safe in the air.

There are the ferry crews:

As the first ferry nudged up alongside, witnesses said, some passengers were able to leap onto the decks. Others were helped aboard by ferry crews.

They're represented by the Seafarers International Union. They provide safety training to their members so they're prepared for events like yesterday's accident.

There are the cops and firemen:

Helicopters brought wet-suited police divers, who dropped into the water to help with the rescues.

They're represented by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association and Uniformed Fire Officers Association (IAFF locals).They're the men and women who performed so heroically on 9/11--and they've been fighting to make sure first responders get the equipment to do this kind of thing.

Bob Corker and Richard Shelby like to claim that union labor is a failed business model.

But I haven't heard much about Bob Corker and Richard Shelby saving 155 people's lives.

Reprinted from Emptywheel, January 16, 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Make America Happen. Again.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took the oath of office, he promised the nation bold and dynamic leadership and proved that government can be a partner with the American people to see us through dark times. Through robust public investment, FDR created jobs, provided relief and guaranteed a more secure retirement for working men and women. Today, the challenges awaiting President-elect Obama are different, but the solutions are similar: we need to reinvest in the long term stability and prosperity of our communities.

This week, AFSCME launched a new campaign, “Make America Happen,” to support President-elect Obama’s efforts to revitalize our economy, provide health care for all and strengthen the middle class. We’ve created a new video as part of our campaign, highlighting the lessons to be learned from FDR’s response to the Great Depression. You can see the video and sign up for the campaign to “Make America Happen” at:

President-elect Barack Obama’s call for bold action and civic engagement in response to our present crisis echoes FDR’s inspiring call to pull the nation out of the Great Depression and forge the New Deal. The video shows how our nation triumphed over economic crisis once before and can do so again by reinvesting in public service, providing health care for all Americans and growing the middle class.

In the weeks and months ahead, the “Make America Happen” campaign will build the grassroots support needed to overcome resistance and enact the kind of bold programs that are needed to address the national crisis we face today. With Barack Obama in the White House and a new Congress in place, working families have never had more public support nor had such a historic chance to affect a major shift in American politics. It’s up to each of us right now to make the most of this critical time.

You can be a part of this historic effort. Sign our petition to advance three legislative priorities of the Make America Happen” campaign:

  • Jumpstart the Economy: America needs a comprehensive economic recovery package that provides aid to ailing state and local governments and maintains vital public services and the jobs of the dedicated employees who provide them.
  • Make Health Care Affordable: Our broken health care system must be reformed and the skyrocketing costs of coverage must be controlled. Guaranteed quality, affordable health care everyone can count on is key to economic recovery.
  • Rebuild the Middle Class: Workers should be free to join unions and bargain for better wages and benefits. Unions are a ticket to the middle class and they raise the standard of living for all. We can accomplish this by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

FDR’s leadership inspired a generation and helped America’s economy get back on track. Barack Obama offers bold leadership and new solutions to address the crises we currently face. Now, we need to be involved. Already, prominent Republicans in Congress have signaled strong opposition to much of the President-elect’s agenda, including his call to give states and local governments the support they need to continue providing the services that the public needs during a difficult recession. We cannot allow them to scuttle critically important proposals that will turn our economy around and build a better future for our country.

Take a look at AFSCME’s video and sign the petition urging quick action on an agenda to create jobs and protect vital services, provide health care for all and strengthen America’s middle class. Working together we can “Make America Happen.” Again.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Boozman Votes Against Equal Pay

Congressman John Boozman (R-AR3) voted twice this week against fair pay for women, but the House on Friday, in a vote of 247-171, overwhelmingly passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 11), which boosts a woman’s ability to bring pay discrimination lawsuits. The bill overrules a Supreme Court decision that workers must file a discrimination claim within 180 days of a pay violation, even though many people don’t learn about the wage disparities for years.

In a 256-163 vote, lawmakers also approved the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12), which closes “loopholes that have enabled employers to evade the 1963 law requiring equal pay for equal work.” Boozman voted against it.

As Justice Ginsburg said in her rare, blistering oral dissent from the bench, at the time the Ledbetter decision was handed down:

In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.

Title VII was meant to govern real-world employment practices, and that world is what the court today ignores.

The battle for pay equity now moves forward to the U.S. Senate, where the margins are a bit tighter. Please take some time to call our Senators and voice your support.

Also send a note to UA Chancellor David Gearhart and tell him it is time that women faculty be paid equally with their male colleagues at the University. No more excuses; no more discrimination.

Rosie the Riveter is on her way to getting paid equally with the men at the physical plant. And the office. And the classroom. And wherever else she might be doing an equal job for equal pay.

Obama: Made-in-America Jobs

President-elect Barack Obama today laid out some of the details of his economic recovery plan. While the current President focuses on giving the Medal of Freedom to the leader of a country that has the highest number of trade union murders in the world and on spending nearly $600,000 on new china for the White House days before leaving office, Obama is moving to clean up the Bush economic mess. Giving the Democratic radio address this morning, Obama said:

Our first job is to put people back to work and get our economy working again. This is an extraordinary challenge.

Obama said his plan was in part crafted by economist Jared Bernstein, an ally of the labor movement at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and now economic advisor to Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

We’ll create nearly half a million jobs by investing in clean energy–by committing to double the production of alternative energy in the next three years, and by modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the energy efficiency of two million American homes. These made-in-America jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, developing fuel-efficient cars and new energy technologies pay well, and they can’t be outsourced.

“Made-in-America jobs.” What sweet words after eight years of an administration bent on giving endless corporate incentives to move U.S. jobs overseas. Here’s more from Obama’s radio address:

  • Put nearly 400,000 people to work by repairing our infrastructure–our crumbling roads, bridges and schools.
  • Build the new infrastructure we need to succeed in this century, investing in science and technology, and laying down miles of new broadband lines so that businesses across our nation can compete with their counterparts around the world.
  • Work to achieve bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage; a $1,000 tax cut for 95 percent of working families; and assistance to help states avoid harmful budget cuts in essential services like police, fire, education and health care.
-- Yula Connell, AFL-CIO Now Blog

Friday, January 9, 2009

Solis Confirmation Hearing Report

Rep. Hilda Solis, a four-term House member from California's 32nd Congressional District and a true friend of America's workers, appeared today before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in a confirmation hearing on her nomination to be labor secretary. Today, we had an opportunity to hear the first extended discussion of how she plans to return the U.S. Department of Labor to its primary mission of protecting the lives, wages and rights of working people.

Solis is a longtime friend of the labor movement who comes to her understanding of unions and working people naturally—she is the daughter of immigrant working class, union member parents. Her dad was a Teamsters member and shop steward; her mom was an assembly line worker at a Mattel toy factory in Southern California and a member of the United Rubber Workers (since merged into the United Steelworkers).

Learn more about Hilda Solis on our blog.

As President-elect Barack Obama said repeatedly throughout the campaign, the Bush administration and outgoing Labor Secretary Elaine Chao spent eight years attacking workers' rights, workplace health and safety rules and unions while they carried the water for Big Business. We can count on Solis to change that focus.

We can help strengthen one of America's greatest assets, its labor force. I will work to strengthen our unions and support every American in our nation's diverse workforce. 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.
Hilda Solis, discussing her goals for the Labor Department

This isn't just talk—Solis has a long record to back this up. While in Congress, she has voted for the Employee Free Choice Act, raising the minimum wage, protecting the wages of construction workers, strengthening fair and equal pay laws for women, tough workplace safety standards, bolstering the rights of federal workers and other issues that we all agree should top the Labor Department's priority list.

Learn more about the Solis confirmation hearing on our blog.

In Solidarity,

Marc Laitin
Working Families e-Activist Network, AFL-CIO

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Arkansas Labor Legislative Conference

The Arkansas 87th General Assembly convenes Monday, January 12th. The AFL -CIO in conjunction with the Arkansas Professional Firefighters will be hosting a Legislative Conference on February 9th – 10th, 2009 . We will also be hosting a reception on Monday evening. The conference will be held at the Comfort Inn & Suites located at 707 Interstate 30, Little Rock , Arkansas .

At the conference we will be discussing legislation of interest to union members and the working families of Arkansas . Arkansas Legislators will be invited to the conference and a reception Monday evening. There will be presentations on Workers Compensation, PAC Registration and Lobbying. There will be a breakfast hosted for all Legislators on February 10th, giving you an opportunity to meet with and lobby your Legislators.

After breakfast we will go to the Capitol to continue lobbying on the issues of interest to Labor. There is a registration fee of $45.00 per person, breakfast and all materials are included. Lunch will be provided on February 9th.

We have negotiated special hotel room rates of $79.00 for all rooms and $89.00 for suites. You may call the hotel at (501) 687-7700 to make reservations. To get the special room rate, you must tell the hotel that you are attending the AFL-CIO & APFF Joint Legislative Conference. January 26th, 2009 is the cut-off date for making reservations. Rooms are limited please make your reservations now.

Fraternally yours,

Ricky Belk, Secretary-Treasurer

Questions: Call the Arkansas AFL-CIO at (501) 375-9101.


Please complete this registration form and return to:

Arkansas AFL-CIO, 1115 Bishop St., Little Rock, Arkansas, 72202


Address_________________________City____________________State____ Zip____

Union_______________________________ Local Union Number _________________

Telephone Number_________________________E-mail­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________________

Check Amount_______ Check Number________

Make checks payable to Arkansas AFL-CIO.

Please use one registration form per person. Duplicate this form as needed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tyson Foods Fined for Worker Death

Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Arkansas and agreed to pay $500,000, the maximum fine, for willfully violating worker safety regulations that led to a worker's death, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

According to a news release, Jason Kelley was killed at Tyson Foods' River Valley Animal Foods plant in Texarkana, Ark., after being overcome with hydrogen sulfide gas while repairing a leak from a hydrolyzer.

Tyson Foods used high-pressure steam processors called, called hydrolyzers, to convert poultry feather into feather meal. The Justice Department said the conversion process creates hydrogen sulfide gas, an acute-acting toxic substance tha's harmful to workers. It said Tyson Foods was aware of the dangers of the gas and that it was present at the plant but did not take "sufficient steps" to reduce exposure within prescribed limits or provide effective training to employees.

"Federal laws require employers to undertake steps that limit exposure to dangerous substances like the gas that killed Jason Kelley," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Tyson Foods willfully ignored these regulations and today is being held responsible."

According to Tuesday's plea agreement, Tyson Food will pay $500,000, the maximum criminal fine. The company also will serve one year probation, according to the Justice Department

(Arkansas Business, January 6, 2009)