Under the dark cloud of government shutdowns and other conservative-created mayhem shines a silver lining — the recent gains of California’s low-wage workers. Governor Jerry Brown has signed one law raising the state’s minimum wage and another that provides domestic housekeepers, maids and nannies with the right to get overtime pay. These were huge triumphs in a climate of constriction and budget cuts. Such policies will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, as well as their families and communities.
These legislative victories are only as powerful as the organizing behind them. It was the huge numbers and commitment of thousands of organized workers (unionized or not) raising their voices that made it impossible for lawmakers to ignore their needs.
The exciting part of activating this new swath of workers is that many have historically not hailed from communities associated with trade unionism. Many come from low-income and/or immigrant communities of color.
In 2004, after a long string of Republican governors and the shockingly narrow defeat of Prop. 72—which would have ushered in the most progressive health care reform ever implemented in the United States—California labor leaders got mad. And then they got organized.
“We said, we’re never going to lose that bad again—what do we have to do to change?” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, who moderated [last] Wednesday’s AFL-CIO 2013 Convention panel discussion “Winning and Building Over Time: Winning in California and You Can, Too.”
The federation decided to do an extensive poll of all of their unions and labor council affiliates, asking members how they voted, who they voted for and what kinds of actions they took, and then conducting an analysis. They discovered that some unions and locals were vastly out-performing others, and that if each affiliate had carried their own weight,
Chances are you’ve heard a union member or leader called one of these things (and in all likelihood, more than once), and it made your blood boil. The unfortunate truth is that misconceptions, stereotypes and all-out lies seem to be dominating the public discussion and perception of labor unions, even among some progressives. We in the labor movement know that unions stand for the working class as the sole and vital counterbalance to corporate greed and excess…but no one else seems to have gotten the memo.
That disconnect—between what we actually do and what others think we do—is the impetus behind yesterday’s action session at the AFL-CIO Convention, entitled “10 Ways to Change How People See Unions.” Featuring AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler, AFSCME’s Chris Policano and Brandon Weber of Upworthy’s Workonomics, this exciting session focused on reintroducing unions to America by focusing on what we actually do every day for working families.
The AFL-CIO closed out its quadrennial convention in Los Angeles yesterday with a morning remembrance to the victims of 9/11 before delegates rolled up their sleeves and finished up with a day of internal housekeeping and policy chores.
The convention might be remembered most for debuting its highly popular afternoon Action Sessions. Comprising about 50 workshops and panels over three days, these sessions gathered together innovative thinkers, cutting-edge organizers and committed activists from around the country to share the lessons learned in hard-won battles to moved labor to the center stage of a 21st century economy.
Collectively they signaled the AFL-CIO’s seriousness about returning to the grass roots and leveraging one area where labor remains unrivaled and undiminished — its organizational power.
This commitment was especially clear at a Wednesday Action Session entitled “Policy Initiatives That Enable Organizing: Living Wage and PLA Campaigns.”
Moderated by James Elmendorf,
Day Three of the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles kicked off yesterday with an address by newly minted U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.
The Labor Secretary energized delegates by affirming the Obama administration’s support for a strong labor movement, praising the AFL-CIO’s efforts on comprehensive immigration reform and by pledging his department’s commitment to aggressively enforcing existing workplace laws.
Perez singled out the administration’s recently proposed rule to limit exposure to deadly silica dust in the workplace, saying that “it is a false choice to suggest that we can have job creation or job safety, but not both.”
He called raising the minimum wage “a moral imperative,” but admitted that despite 42 straight months of private sector job growth, job recovery overall remained disappointing, particularly for public-sector workers. “This is the first economic recovery in American history,” Perez noted, “in which government jobs haven’t come back.”
Perez’s presence marked the highest-level appearance at this convention by the Obama administration after the President last week canceled his own plans to attend the gathering,