Yes. The Supreme Court spared public sector unions.
No. That doesn't mean we won.
The labor movement is pretty happy this morning, at least judging by social media, and they have good reason to be. The Supreme Court announced it had deadlocked, 4-4 in the Friedrichs case that could have decimated unions by prohibiting the collection of fair share fees. Without a court majority, the decision of the lower court stands, and non-members will still have to contribute toward the cost of contract negotiation and grievance representation. To put it mildly, we dodged a bullet. We should be happy with the result. We can even celebrate a little bit.
But here's the thing. The anti-union forces that brought and funded this case aren't sitting in a corner, licking their wounds. This result has been expected since Justice Scalia passed away on February 13th.
Make no mistake. We won this battle, but the war is far from over. If I had to guess, I'd assume conference rooms in Wichita are buzzing right now. A strategy is taking shape. Plans are being made.
The Guardian explained it this way in February:
"The best way to say it, if it's 4-4, it's as if the court had never even heard the case," said Russell Wheeler, a federal courts expert at the Brookings Institution. "The decision below stands, but it has no precedential value.
In other words, this isn't settled law. There will be another case. And another after that. If you've wondered why most Republicans have refused to do their job and held fast to the ludicrous idea that President Obama shouldn't be allowed to appoint another Justice, it's partly because they know they've lost their anti-union majority on the Court.
We know the relentless assault on unions and working people will continue. That's why we're constantly working to unify the labor movement. We have already begun deploying new technology that will help unions survive Right to Work and Paycheck Protection by simplifying dues collection. We're proud to be a part of the labor movement, and we take pride in the work we do to keep our unions strong.
Today, we won. Tomorrow, the work continues.
What are your thoughts? Let us know on Facebook!
With the start of a new year comes a host of new challenges for workers, including new "Right to Work" legislation in West Virginia.
With 2016 a pivotal election year, Labor has already begun the monumental task of mobilizing, endorsing and contingency planning for November's outcome. As part of this proactive push to get their collective houses in order, we at UnionTrack have been busier than usual this winter. Needless to say it is a challenge we look forward to with enthusiasm.
This month, UnionTrack will showcase our Local Union solution at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Affiliate Leadership Training Summit and Human Relations Conference in Lake Buena Vista Florida. We'll be there demonstrating and discussing our latest iteration of UnionTrack Open.
We are also pleased to announce the inclusion of several new Unions to the UnionTrack family:
We are crisscrossing the country, meeting each week with National and Local unions to help them make the best use of their technology resources. If you happen across the UnionTrack truck, stop by and say hello.
What are your expecations for 2016? Let us know on Facebook!
Most American holidays honor an individual's contributions to our nation, its history or its character. We honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and - in some places - Christopher Columbus.
Others honor the sacrifices made by the millions who have donned a uniform and sworn to defend our country from enemies foreign and domestic. We honor all who served on Veterans Day and those who gave their lives on Memorial Day.
But one holiday is unique. One day a year, we pause to honor the contributions of our friends and neighbors - and even ourselves. Labor Day is unique in celebrating the "rest of us," who get up every day and go to work to make America great. It's a day that celebrates not our individual accomplishments or acts of bravery, but our determination to work together in the daily work of literally building our country into a nation unlike any that has ever been seen on the face of the earth.
In particular, I hope we will take a moment to specifically recognize the contributions that the Organized Labor Movement has made to our national character. Many were surprised when a recent Gallup Poll showed a major uptick in Americans' support for labor unions. In that poll, 58% of Americans said they approve of labor unions, an increase of 5% over just a year ago and a dramatic recovery from the historic low of 48% just six years ago.
"The report of my death was an exaggeration," Mark Twain famously wrote in the New York Journal in 1897. I wonder what he'd say about today's labor movement.
I wish I knew what has caused the turnaround in public sentiment towards Labor, but there's no question that it's real. Maybe the relentless attack on unions and workers sparked a return to the fundamental sense of fairness at the core of our national character. Maybe the financial crisis and Great Recession reminded us that we need somebody looking out for the rest of us. Maybe it was the way all of labor came together to fight the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Maybe people finally heard our message and understood that when labor is stronger, we all do better.
I don't pretend to know what caused such a dramatic reversal in our thinking, but I do know I'm thankful that it happened. I also know it's not a fluke. Just this week, I read an article about growing union membership in so-called "right to work states" like Arizona. The "Fight for 15" campaign to raise the minimum wage-driven largely by labor and fueled by the slogan "15 and a Union" is gathering steam and building successes across the country. Workers are feeling empowered. Labor is on the rise.
The report of labor's death was an exaggeration, indeed.
Still, there are people who say to me, on a fairly consistent basis, "Ken.I get that unions were important 100 years ago, when people died in sweatshops and child labor was commonplace.but why do we need them now? We have worker protections, child labor laws and a minimum wage." These well-meaning friends are under the misguided impression that we don't need to remain vigilant. They don't understand that powerful interests who would overturn every worker protection measure we have fought for since the industrial revolution. They've been lulled into a sense of security by never having lived in a world where there were no safeguards against employer abuse. What they don't realize is that they've also never lived in a world without an organized labor movement.
As a reminder to my friends and your neighbors, here are just a few things we take for granted but owe to Organized Labor:
This is just a partial list, but it's also a list of things we take for granted that could be taken away if there was nobody watching our elected officials. It's the labor movement that remains vigilant and keeps up the fight for working families.
So as you enjoy your barbecues this weekend, catch the last rays at the beach and lament the end of summer, remember that labor day isn't just about Frances Perkins, Cesar Chavez, A. Philip Randolph, Samuel Gompers and the ghosts of Triangle Shirtwaist company. It's about you and me, our friends and neighbors. Our kids' teachers, the fire fighter who saved your house and the carpenter who built it. Labor day does celebrate heroism. It's the heroism of those who fight for a better life for all of us. Some of them wear uniforms, some don't. But we all get up every morning and go to work. And that's something worth celebrating.
Have a great weekend and a safe Labor Day.
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And now for something completely different - our Labor Day Spotify Playlist!
Have a song to add? Let us know! Tell us on Facebook and we'll add it to the list.
I've drawn inspiration from Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit in the past, but their latest work, along with Mark Zuckerman, feels like a mind meld.
Their report for The Century Foundation, "Virtual Labor Organizing: Could Technology Help Reduce Income Inequality," contains this little nugget:
The problem today is that joining a union at work is decidedly last century—clunky, contentious and confusing—and companies such as Walmart and McDonalds want to keep it that way.
Of course they do. And they've done a really good job for a really long time. Big companies have kept it difficult to join a union by convincing working Americans that union membership is all headache and no benefit.
But Kahlenberg and company see it differently.
As I referenced back in September, Kahlenberg believes the right to organize is a civil right. In this report, he doubles down, making the bold claim that, "the ability of employees to join a labor union is the largest unclaimed legal right to additional personal wealth in America today." He backs his claim by calculating the estimated union hourly wage premium—the amount by which an individual's hourly wage rises when he or she becomes part of a collective bargaining unit— across a number of industries. He includes manufacturing, the building trades, health care, teaching, public safety and the sciences to show that—regardless of your industry or the color of your collar, you leave money on the table when you choose not to join the union. In fact, the BLS has calculated median income for a two-income nonunion household to be $400/week less than for a union household. "Over the course of a lifetime," Kahlenberg says, "that adds up to more than half a million dollars in foregone wealth."
Personally, I think it's madness. Americans have a civil right that could put thousands of dollars in their pockets, and more than 80 percent of them are opting to just take a pass!
But then again, clunky, contentious and confusing are tough obstacles to overcome. And remember, employers want to keep it that way. They campaign, coerce and cajole. They intimidate, villainize and demonize. Employers have long targeted employees who advocate for union membership, and the tactics work. Workers have been convinced they're better off handing over their rights—and their checkbooks—than risking their jobs to go through the process of joining a union.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The anti-labor forces are united in one thing—their desire to bust unions. And keeping the process cumbersome helps them achieve their goal.
Kahlenberg says a revitalized union movement could be a powerful force in reducing income inequality. But to do that, we need to bring organizing into the 21st century.
His timing couldn't be any better.
As Right to Work continues to rear its head in legislature after legislature across the country, the next front has already been opened in the war on workers. In places like Oklahoma, lawmakers (and ALEC) are trying to prohibit union dues from being paid via payroll deduction. And Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has been on an almost maniacal campaign against labor.
At the same time, the Supreme Court has granted cert in Freidrichs vs. California Teachers Association, which threatens unions' ability to collect agency fees from non-members who receive the benefits of collective bargaining. By the way, it's no accident that this case made it to next session's docket. The justices telegraphed, through earlier decisions, their desire to look at this issue.
Eliminating payroll deductions creates an extra hoop for union members to jump through each month. Agency fees prevent free riders—workers who accept all the benefits the union offers (collectively bargained wages, grievance representation, etc.) without contributing to the costs associated with those benefits. In other words, unions are facing a situation where they have to absorb the cost of representing more non-members at the same time it becomes harder for members to provide the union with resources.
The new goal isn't just to smear unions; the goal is to choke off labor's oxygen, to bleed unions dry. Because when unions are strong, all Americans do better. And when all Americans do better, it's hard to concentrate wealth and power amongst the few.
If there's a silver lining to all of this, the attacks seem to have awakened a sleeping giant. Unions are focusing on members and membership. Across the country, unions are undertaking massive organizing campaigns again.
Kahlenberg cites a 2007 study that showed 60 percent of workers would join a union if they could—at a time when only 12 percent of the workforce was organized. Why can't they? Because the barriers are too high. The intimidation factor is too persuasive. The clunky, contentious and confusing organizing process is a deterrent in and of itself.
To grow labor in the 21st Century, Kahlenberg suggests a digital organizing application that simplifies the organizing process. He proposes an application that identifies and maps employees for organizing campaigns, allows communication between organizers and workers that's free from employer snooping and moves the campaign quickly and efficiently through the collection and submission of cards to request an election.
I don't usually use this blog to talk about UnionTrack specifically, but—simply put—I feel like I'm in the eye of the perfect storm.
We built UnionTrack to be the technology platform that helps unions in the 21st century devote their resources to the core missions that strengthen the labor movement: organizing, training and advocating for working families. We believed we could create not only a system that unifies union operations into a single system that maintains a single version of the truth about each member, but that we could play a role in helping labor organize and grow. In many ways, we built UnionTrack to be everything Kahlenberg has proposed, and more.
We built it with a focus on the individual member, and we built it to service the entire union ecosystem. From workers engaged in an organizing campaign to pre-apprentice trainees and apprentices, journeypersons to retirees, UnionTrack allows any union—from a small local to an international headquarters—to manage each member's union lifecycle.
With some developing partnerships layered on top of the system we already have in place, I believe we could deploy the "theoretical" application Kahlenberg suggested in a matter of weeks.
On a personal level, it is incredibly satisfying to have the work we put into building UnionTrack validated by a respected expert on the labor movement. And as we continue to see legislators and policymakers line up with the few and the powerful, I am proud to stand on the side of working people across America and beyond.
As always, thanks for reading.
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Three articles caught my attention over the past week or so.
The United Auto Workers announced it has 55% of the workforce at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 816 members are seeking recognition just a year after anti-labor politicians in the state (particularly United States Senator Bob Corker) campaigned against the UAW, threatening workers that their jobs would be in jeopardy if the factory elected to join the union.
Corker's message was in stark contrast to VW management:
"I recommend that you choose to have a democratic voice in your work place and vote for union representation by the UAW," a company executive said at the time. "Thus you will become a part of a global family of solidarity."
That executive, Berthold Huber, recently took the reigns as chairman of Volkswagen. He is now encouraging workers at the Tennessee plant - the company's only non-union plant - to reconsider and vote for union representation.
Another CEO who understands this is Boeing's Jim McNerney. To be fair, McNerney is no Huber, but in the face of attempted union busting by South Carolina Governor Nickki Haley, McNerney made it clear Boeing employees are free to join the IAM.or not.
Comparing the IAM Member employees at Boeing's Puget Sound factory with their non-union colleagues in South Carolina, McNerney said:
"One group has a union and one doesn't. We prefer to have a direct relationship with our employees, but when they choose to have a union we want to work with them. So it's not either-or. Our task is to work with both environments and to grow them to their potential. ...But I'm very happy with developments down in South Carolina. That place is really doing well."
Again, there's a different tone here than at VW, but we have another example of a CEO defending his employees' right to organize, and recognizing the company's responsibility to respect that decision.
Finally, a new front in the Fight for $15. SEIU is looking to franchisees who want to increase leverage in dealings with McDonalds, Wendy's and other chains as allies in their campaign to guarantee fast food workers a fair wage. It's an unusual - if not uneasy - alliance, but with both franchisees and employees at the mercy of the large multinational corporations, both recognized the value that comes from an organized, amplified voice.
These three stories point out a common fallacy. The relationship between labor and management is too-often portrayed as adversarial by design - as if the union exists not to better the lives of the workers but to somehow diminish the companies that employ those workers. That's not how it has to be. That's not how it should be. In fact, it's just nonsense.
When UnionTrack became a separate company just over a year ago, I made the decision to operate a union shop. And as you might imagine, a number of factors went into that decision. Of course, it was important for me that our customers know we're believers in the labor movement, but that's not all.
For starters, I was able to provide employees with better heath coverage. I know they'll have access to services I - or most small businesses - couldn't afford to provide for them if not for the union. The list goes on. The end result is that I'm able to be a better, more competitive employer - and I'll be able to hire and retain better talent - because I offer my employees the benefits of union membership. I proudly carry my own membership card from the International Union of Operating Engineers because I know they make my company better by making my and my employees' lives better.
It's time to flip the script on the labor vs. management adversarial relationship. No employee wants to see his company fail; no CEO should want to succeed by letting her employees struggle and flounder. Labor and management can be partners in ensuring a company's success. That's how we're doing it at UnionTrack, that's how they're doing it at Volkswagen and Boeing, and that's how it should be done everywhere.
Can management and labor put aside the stereotypes and work together for greater success? Let us know on Facebook!
What's the big deal about so-called "Right to Work" laws?
If you've been following along with the blog, you've probably noticed we're spending a lot of time and energy on the recent spate of Right to Work legislation making its way through various statehouses and capitols. If you'd spent any time around our office, you'd realize we spend even more time talking about these bills.
So why do we care so much? What's the big deal?
It's not just because UnionTrack is a union shop and that some of our members are represented by Operating Engineers Local 324 in Michigan, the 24th state to pass enact Right to Work, though that matters.
It's not because we see the not-so-invisible hand of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch-funded think tank that churns out cookie-cutter, anti-worker legislation in an effort to maximize corporate profits as the force behind Right to Work, though that matters.
We care because so-called Right to Work laws are part of a deliberate attempt to weaken unions, and with them, the hard-fought protections that workers all over America enjoy.
First off, we should clarify what right to work actually means. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with a job seeker's ability to find employment. There is no "right" to a job, and no guarantee of work. What right to work means is that, in a union shop, the union is required to represent both members and non-members equally, but that the non-members cannot be required to pay for that representation.
It is already the case - established in Federal law - that an employee cannot be compelled to join a union.
It is already the case - established in Federal law - that an employee cannot be compelled to participate in union political funds or activities.
And it is already the case that the unions represent members and non-members who make up the collective bargaining unit.
In non-Right to Work states, unions charge non-members and dues objectors an "agency fee." Essentially, non-members pay a small fee to make the union their "agent" in contract negotiations and grievance disputes. The union, in turn, negotiates the best possible employment contract for all employees. The union also ensures all employees are treated fairly, that the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) are adhered to properly, and that employees have access to appropriate representation in disputes with their employers.
In right to work states, it's no longer required for non-members to pay the agency fee, but unions are still required to represent those members, and to negotiate on their behalf, in essence creating a free rider problem for the union.
The goal is to starve unions of the resources they use to effectively represent their members. Choke off the oxygen (the money necessary to lead negotiations, etc.), and hope the unions suffocate and die.
And that's when the real problems start.
Without unions, who will be the voice of the worker?
Without unions, who will fight for better workplace protections, or ensure that existing protections remain in place?
Without unions, who will hold employers accountable to the contracts they sign?
The answer should be obvious. Nobody will.
In right to work states, wages are lower. Not just for union members, for everybody. Unions advocate for all working families, and the better wages at union shops creates competition amongst employers who want to hire the best people.
In right to work states, there are more fatal workplace injuries.
Union training, and union shop rules ensure the most qualified workers and safest workplaces possible.
The list goes on.
It's cheaper to use poorly trained workers, to pay them a subsistence wage (or to avoid paying them at all), and to eliminate the regulations that keep employees safe. It's cynical, but you can squeeze a few more dollars into the annual report that way. All that stands in the way is a union looking to unify, organize, train and advocate for workers.
That's why right to work matters. That's why it's a big deal. That's why we spend so much time talking about it.
We consider ourselves partners with unions - whether our customers or not - in the larger labor movement. After all, we're union members ourselves; we see the risk that right to work poses, not just to our customers, not just to ourselves, but to all workers everywhere.
We're going to stay on top of this. We're going to beat the drum to make sure everybody knows where the next fight will be. We know Right to Work isn't going away, that its proponents are well funded and determined. Their greatest hope is that nobody will notice what they're trying to do... but we won't let that happen.
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Another great week on the road meeting with labor leaders provided some time to reflect on our ongoing mission to unify the labor movement. I had planned on writing up a blog post that updated all of you on the progress of so-called "Right to Work" legislation...until Gov. Scott Walker brought everything into crystal clear focus.
The Wisconsin governor and likely presidential candidate has shown over his time in office that he's no friend of the middle class. In his first term in office, he ended collective bargaining rights for public employees.
This week, Wisconsin was ground zero in the war on working families, with Walker pledging his support for Right to Work legislation being rammed through the Wisconsin legislature. Thousands of union members and supporters rallied against the bill at the capitol in Madison, exercising their rights to free speech, to assembly and to petition their government for a redress of grievances, but their voices fell on deaf ears. The public forum portion of the hearings were ended early by Republican Senator Stephen Nass due to what he called a "credible threat" that union members planned to disrupt the proceedings.
In the midst of this fight, Walker flew to Washington to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to burnish his credentials for a presidential run. And while he was there, he let us all know what he thinks of those working Wisconsinites who gathered to fight for their rights.
He thinks they're terrorists.
Asked about his ability to fight international terrorism, Walker said:
"If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world."
I want to be clear about what Scott Walker was saying. He equated these guys with these guys. He thinks those working men and women who showed up in Madison to peacefully protest a piece of legislation.are no different than an army of murderous terrorists.
And the CPAC crowd responded with applause.
In our meetings with Business Managers, Secretary-Treasurers, Political Directors and Executive Vice Presidents we encountered a constant theme: the anti-union forces are unified. They are clear in their goal, organized and well-funded. They are determined to break the unions, and they're winning.
As Right to Work sailed through the Wisconsin legislature this week, it also passed the House in New Mexico. It hit a minor snag in Montana, but Senate Republicans still intend to run the bill. Right to Work is pending in Illinois. A bill passed the Kentucky Senate. Another passed the Missouri House.
This is not a coincidence. This is a coordinated effort.
Kentucky's bill died in the House. Missouri's governor has promised a veto. New Mexico's Senate is unlikely to pass the bill. But our opponents will keep fighting. These bills will be back: maybe next year, maybe the year after. But they'll be back.
Our opponents have spent years trying to divide us, to bog us down in administrative work and to weaken organized labor. With Right to Work, they think they'll be able to strike the fatal blow.
The best defense against that fatal blow is for labor to unify, organize and mobilize. We need to get our people to the polls, to make sure we elect legislators who will vote down these bills, governors who will veto them and - in places where they're elected - judges who will protect workers' constitutional rights.
Scott Walker has declared us the enemy and is mounting an attack on our livelihood. His allies have spent years trying to divide us and weaken our defenses.
In my last blog, I closed with a reminder of why we fight. Today, I'm looking to one of my favorite movies for inspiration. If we're going to stand strong against our well-funded opponents and make sure this country continues to look out for working families, we're going to have to change course. We're going to have to unite the clans!
If I could think of three words to describe this week, they just might be "exciting," "exhilarating" and "exhausting." And I can honestly say I wouldn't have made it through the week without my great team behind me.
As I write this, I'm on my way back from Long Island, New York, where Matt, Pat and I have spent the past few days getting the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association up and running as UnionTrack's newest customer. Like most of our customers, the SCPBA had been using a number of disparate, disjointed databases to track member data. With UnionTrack in place, the SCPBA staff will be able to devote less of their time to paperwork and more time to member engagement, political activity and advocacy on behalf of their more than 2,000 active and retired members.
I came here straight from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where UnionTrack was a sponsor of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's biennial legislative conference, where labor leaders from around the state came to the capital to set priorities for the new legislative session. The crowd was especially excited this year to hear from newly sworn in Governor Tom Wolf, a friend of labor who will be an important ally in the fight against an anti-worker agenda in the state House and Senate. What made the governor's visit even more exciting was his announcement at the conference that he would support pending legislation to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10/hour. We also heard from Lt. Governor Mike Stack and State Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino.
Of all the speakers I saw over the two days, I was most struck by Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder's speech to the delegates. Frank pointed out that Pennsylvanians, with Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west get emotionally invested in their sports teams, and encouraged the members to get just as invested in the fight for working Pennsylvanians. "You'll literally get into fights about Eagles or Steelers," he said. "You'll fight for the Penguins or the Flyers, the Phillies or the Pirates..but will you fight for your Union?"
With the AFL-CIO's legislative agenda at the heart of the meeting, Frank was adamant that union members have to be engaged in the battles that affect not just union members-such as the 40 year fight against privatizing the state's liquor stores, which employ more than 23,000 UFCW members-but also fights for a livable minimum wage and against the "Right to Work (for less)."
On top of legislation, Frank mentioned a number of upcoming elections around the state that could have profound impacts for working families around the state-from special elections to fill the seats of Rep. Brendan Boyle (who left the state house to represent the 13th Congressional District in Washington) and Lt. Governor Stack, who left the state Senate, to the upcoming mayoral election in Philadelphia and county-wide races across the state, to the three vacancies on the state's supreme court-which plays an important role in drawing legislative districts.
With all of this on the agenda, Frank reminded us we could either "invest now or pay later." Either we get to work electing pro-Labor candidates now or we suffer the consequences of their actions in the future.
For me, there were two main highlights from my time in Harrisburg. The first was having the opportunity to address the Executive Committee on Wednesday, to share with them our vision of a unified labor movement and explain how UnionTrack begins to play a role in realizing that vision.
Even better, though, was the opportunity to meet with so many labor leaders. We got to talk to Ken Kertesz, State Legislative Director of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, who will be using UnionTrack in a matter of weeks, to John Kane from UA Local 690, who is deeply committed to unifying his own union's operations in the near future. We left Harrisburg with a better understanding of Pennsylvania's deep labor roots and, more importantly, with a lot of new friends.
It was an exhausting week, and I'm ready for the weekend.but this was also a great reminder of why we're here. I want to especially thank the leadership and staff of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO for making us feel so welcome in Harrisburg: President Rick Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder, the Pams (Cohen and McClellan), Mike Johnson, and especially Christine Allen.
To paraphrase the Decemberists, it was a great reminder of why we fight.
One of the things I love most about this job is getting to spend time with my brothers and sisters in the Labor movement—to step away from the office, to put work aside for a while, and just have fun.
I had one of those opportunities this past weekend, when I joined members of IBEW Local 26, Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, Iron Workers Local 5, Brick Layers and Allied Craftworkers, IMTEF, IUOE Local 99 and my teammates from TCU/IAM as part of the 23rd Annual "Bowling for Gold" Tournament sponsored by the Community Services Agency of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO.
The mission of the Community Services Agency is to improve the lives of workers and their families by meeting their human and social services needs; by building diverse coalitions to promote and protect dignity and justice for workers; and by empowering workers and their unions to make their communities better places to live, work, raise a family and retire. The tournament benefits the CSA's Emergency Assistance Fund.
Last year, the Emergency Assistance program helped more than 300 families avoid evictions, foreclosures, utility cutoffs and hunger. Emergency Assistance is one of the ways the Labor community gives back to our larger community, and knowing we were making a real difference in the lives of Washington-area families—just when they need it most—more than made up for my less-than-stellar performance in the lanes.
I should note that although I did not get top score—that was 297—I managed to avoid totally embarrassing myself with a respectable 116. At a top velocity of over 124 m.p.h., I was able to bounce out of the gutter and pick up a spare. Not everybody can accomplish such a feat, and not that many try. Perhaps it's because it doesn't count, but I do think it's nice to have someone clear the gutters!
I'll be lobbying for some rule changes over the next year, because we are bringing a UnionTrack team to the 24th annual tournament in 2016. In the mean time, I'm looking forward to Labor Night at the Nats this summer, the next chance to raise money for the Emergency Assistance Fund, and another opportunity to get out of the office and spend some time with my friends.
The first domino has fallen.
The Republican wave that crashed over the country in November left the GOP in control of 69% of the partisan legislative chambers in the nation (68 out of 98) and 31 out of 50 governorships. Republicans are feeling emboldened, and in more places than ever, Democrats simply don't have the votes to keep anti-worker legislation from becoming law—let alone the ability to help working families with a minimum wage increase or paid sick leave.
First up for the new Republican majorities is so-called "right to work" legislation, designed to weaken unions and silence the voices of workers across the country. According to the Washington Post, "right to work" bills have already been filed in nine states: Wisconsin, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
"Right to work" has nothing to do with guaranteeing families a good job. It's a clever name that sounds great to the public. But make no mistake. What this legislation—already on the books in 24 states—guarantees is the right to work for less.
So-called right to work laws weaken unions' ability to bargain collectively, to enforce CBAs and to advocate for working families. Workplace protections are stripped. Wages are lower.
And just this past week (on January 28), the Business and Employment Committee of the New Mexico House of Representatives moved approved that state's right to work bill. After wresting control of the House for the first time in 60 years, Republicans took less than a month to move anti-worker legislation. Governor Susana Martinez has said she supports the bill as well.
Luckily, the New Mexico State Senate is still controlled by Democrats, which guarantees an uphill fight for anti-worker forces. But as I said, this is the first domino. In other places, we won't be so lucky.
The corporate interests who push "Right to Work" legislation are no dummies. They are afraid of a unified pro-worker voice, so they'll use every trick in the book—especially campaign contributions—to weaken the Labor movement.
The only way we beat back these attacks on workers' rights is with a unified voice that stands up for fairness, for a living wage and for a strong middle class. And that voice can-and should-be organized labor.
When I started UnionTrack, a few people asked me, "why unions?"
The short answer is that I believe in making sure each individual worker's voice is heard. Corporate management will always have a way to make their case in the press or in the halls of power, but a steelworker, a machinist, a nurse or a teacher is going to have a rough time getting heard on her own. That's why we need unions, and that's why we need unions to be strong. At their best, unions are the most effective advocates for all working families, and our software helps each union be the best they can be.
Three issues in the news lately remind me how important this is.
First, and most prominent has been the #RaiseTheWage campaign to bring the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Sadly, it looks like any chance of getting this through Congress before the end of the year has all but vanished, and the incoming Congress seems unlikely to take up the issue. It looks like we're going to have to fight this one state by state.
According to this Pew Research Center Report, just over 1.5 million Americans worked for minimum wage last year. While some were teenagers, more than 3/4 were adults. Just over one in three worked full-time for minimum wage.
A woman (and more than half of minimum wage earners are women) working a full-time job — 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year — for minimum wage earns $15,080 per year before taxes... just below the Federal poverty level for a two person household.
This means that woman, earns $290 each week to pay rent and utilities, buy groceries, keep the lights on, heat the house, and do laundry. Oh, and she still has to get to and from work each day!
Here's the other thing. Because she's still below the poverty level, that minimum wage earner isn't able to put anything back into the economy. She's not buying dinner at the restaurant on the corner. She's not buying Christmas presents from the guy who owns the independent toy store down the street. Every penny she earns, she uses to live. Local businesses miss out on customers. The state and city miss out on tax revenue. Everybody loses.
Still, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce says raising the minimum wage will hurt the economy.
The second story, which is closely related, is about the fast food workers organizing to push for a $15 an hour wage. Although this is a national movement, the epicenter has really been New York, where SEIU 32BJ has been working to organize workers under the #FastFoodForward banner.
A few weeks ago, Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed an executive order raising the city's minimum wage to $13.13 per hour. If $290/week sounds barely workable where you live, imagine what it translates to in New York, where the average rent for a 1-BR apartment is $3,450. Even at the new wage, though, you'd have to work 7 weeks to earn enough money to pay a single month's rent. Even in Forest Hills and Brighton Beach — the city's most affordable neighborhoods — it would take more than three weeks' work each month to keep a roof over your head.
McDonald's, in July of this year, reported a $7.2 billon quarterly profit. Their industry association dismissed the protests and called the protesters "greedy."
And finally, one that's been flying a little under the radar, mostly because it's been addressed at the state and local level — the movement to guarantee paid sick leave to hourly workers.
If you noticed above, that $290 hours per week depends on an employee working a full 40-hour week. That means no holidays. No school plays. And most importantly, no getting sick. To an hourly wage-earner, an hour away from work is an hour you fall even further behind. In some cases, calling out sick without finding somebody to cover your shift is even grounds for termination.
So here's what happens. People come to work even when they're sick. They leave sick kids home alone. They get on the subway, or on the bus and show up for work because they can't afford not to.
The Pew Report referenced above showed that more than a million minimum wage earners work in food preparation. I'll let you think about that for a minute.
In April, 2011, The National Restaurant Association set up a Restaurant Advocacy Fund, which spent millions of dollars to fight "complex issues that threaten restaurants' bottom lines." Much of that money was spent fighting legislation to guarantee restaurant employees paid sick leave.
Labor has taken the #LeadOnLeave campaign seriously, but they clearly face a well-funded opposition.
The common thread through all of these stories is the answer to "why unions." As long as there are working people fighting for their most basic rights, the forces that oppose those workers will be well organized and well funded.
There will always be an industry association, an "advocacy fund" or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce standing ready to squash anything that puts working people first.
Unions give the workers a voice, too, but that voice is being drowned out by design. The organized voice of the opposition has been used to splinter the Labor movement, to turn public opinion against people who work hard every day to put food on the table, and to make "union" a dirty word.
We want to give labor its voice back because we believe in the American worker.
That's why we started UnionTrack.
That's "why unions."
Finally, a ray of light streaming through the clouds of organized anti-union legislation.
Congressmen Keith Ellison and John Lewis have introduced legislation (H.R. 5280, the Employee Empowerment Act) that would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to make Labor organizing a civil right. If signed, the law would provide workers who are harassed-or fired-for trying to join a union with similar protections as those afforded under the Civil Rights Act.
This isn't a new idea. In 2012, Richard Kahlenberg, Moshe Marvit and Thomas Geoghan wrote a book called Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right, and in a New York Times op-ed that same year, Kahlenberg and Marvit wrote:
"It's time to add the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because that right is as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in employment and education."
Kahlenberg and Marvit further explained that-while it is technically already illegal to fire somebody for trying to organize a union, the penalties for violating that law are so minor as to actually incentivize a company to stop a union by firing the organizers.
Reps. Ellison and Lewis took a different tack than Kahlenberg and Marvit, opting to focus on the nearly 80-year-old NLRA rather than the Civil Rights Act — a seemingly wise choice given the Roberts Court's recent rulings in other Civil Rights cases.
We believe a vibrant labor movement was key to building the 20th century American middle class, and that when unions are strong, all Americans are better off. We also believe — in a country that protects our freedom of speech, our freedom of association and our freedom of assembly, there is no doubt that the right to organize or form a union and advocate for better wages and workplace protections should be cherished and protected.
Rep. Ellison has posted a petition in support of the Employee Empowerment Act. We know the bill has a long way to go — especially in this anti-worker political climate — so we've added our names. We hope you will, too!
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As we head into Labor Day, we wanted to take a very quick moment to pause and remember the reason we a get a long weekend.
It's easy to lose track - between the back-to-school sales and barbecues, the Top 500 Countdowns and last hurrahs at the beach - of the fact that Labor Day is the one day each year that we celebrate America's hard-working men and women.
While most of our holidays celebrate presidents or other great individual leaders, Labor Day celebrates the millions of individuals who built this nation, literally, from the ground up.
Please pause to remember the Americans:
...Who built the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge.
...Who rush into burning buildings and keep us safe at night.
...Who educate our children and care for our grandparents.
...Who cleared the rubble after 9/11, and who rebuilt - even taller and prouder than we stood before.
Labor built this country. Labor sustains this country.
Organized Labor built the middle class and fought to make everyone's workplace safer.
Unions fought for civil rights and an end to child labor.
And, of course, it's because of organized Labor that we have a weekend in the first place
As we all head out for a Labor Day weekend full of all the things we've come to associate with the end of summer, we hope you'll join us in taking a moment to reflect on the greatness of the American worker, too.
Yours in solidarity,
The UnionTrack Team.
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Welcome! Thanks for stopping by, and welcome to the UnionTrack blog; we hope you'll come back regularly.
Here's the thing - we're a software company, but we're driven by a desire to strengthen the Labor movement in this country and beyond. That's why we decided to focus our energies exculsively on serving unions, so the unions can focus exclusively on serving their members. Some of what you'll find here will be about software, but most of what you'll find will be about the people and organizations who are working every day to increase opportunity for workers and strengthen the middle class.
You'll notice we proudly mark our software "Union Made."
Not too long ago, the Union Label was a mark of quality and craftsmanship - the gold standard for work done by the best-trained and most highly skilled workers. We believe it still is. We're proud to be union members ourselves.
But as anti-labor forces have become unified, the Union Label has also become a target on the backs of organized workers. You see it in the press. You see it in the state legislatures and in the halls of Congress. You even see it at your corner coffee shop.
We believe - and history proves - that everyone does better when Labor speaks with a unified voice...and that we're not nearly as effective when we're divided. That's why UnionTrack exists.
We hope to unify the labor movement from within, and to give unions the ability to focus on their core strengths - organizing, training and advocating for working families everywhere.
We're glad you found us, and we hope you'll come back. We also hope you'll be part of our movement - and help us start a conversation about the things that matter to working families. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.
We're looking forward to hearing from you. Let us know what you think over on our Facebook page
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