AFL-CIO Now Blog

05/04/2021 - 5:00pm
Nurses at Maine Medical Center Vote to Form First-Ever Union Maine Nurses

A lengthy campaign to organize the registered nurses (RNs) at Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland, Maine, culminated in an overwhelming victory last Thursday, April 29. The RNs at MMC voted 1,001 to 750 in a mail-ballot election, counted by the National Labor Relations Board, to form their first-ever union.

The Maine State Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), will now represent the nearly 2,000 registered nurses at Maine Medical Center. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Maine Med nurses to the labor movement. Their solidarity, courage and strength throughout this pandemic and in the face of an expensive, divisive anti-union campaign by hospital management is remarkable and an inspiration to all workers,” said Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney (IBEW) in a statement from the state labor federation.  

“This is a historic union victory at the largest hospital in northern New England," Phinney continued. “We hope other health care workers in Maine will become inspired and organize together to win a voice in their workplaces.”

For over a year, Maine Med RNs have been speaking out against inadequate staffing, overscheduling, a lack of adequate meal and break relief, and inappropriate staffing assignments, among other workplace concerns. 

When it became clear in January 2020 that the nurses at MMC would be heading toward a union election, Maine AFL-CIO Organizing Director Sarah Bigney McCabe leaped the action to garner as much community support as possible.

“We realized pretty quickly how this would be a historic opportunity for workers in Maine,” McCabe said. 

McCabe worked to form the Facebook group “Friends of Maine Med Nurses,” which gained more than 4,500 members who have been using it as a tool to share stories, photos and encouragement throughout the campaign. 

“The energy in the group just immediately took over, it was like wildfire and you couldn’t stop it,” McCabe said. 

Another great aspect of community support during the campaign came from state elected officials, especially from Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, who both spoke out against the hospital’s choice to vaccinate out-of-state union-busting consultants in January ahead of the hospital nurses.

“This hospital serves our entire state—all four corners,” McCabe said. “If you have a serious surgery or injury, you go to this hospital. We want the nurses to have a good staffing ratio, to be well taken care for, because the nurses are such advocates for their patients. That’s why so many people—nurses, patients, union members, felt a stake in this.”

Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, MMC nurses did not have any in-person rallies. Alternatively, the Maine AFL-CIO worked with the campaign to produce lawn signs and window posters. 

“The lawn sign became the hottest-ticket item in Maine,” McCabe said. Throughout the campaign, union members and leaders from the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Fire Fighters (IAFF) and several other unions came together to help distribute lawn signs as well as door-knock at homes and apartment buildings near the Maine Medical Center. According to McCabe, the nurses were overjoyed to see the solidarity from neighboring buildings as they commuted into work. 

“The statewide support that we received on this campaign was unbelievable,” McCabe said. “When we can all come together on these drives and support them, it’s for the better. Here in Maine, we stick together, we have each other’s back. All of our affiliates came out in support of the nurses, and the next time they have a campaign, we’ll be out there for them.” 

And next stop for the Maine AFL-CIO? 

“Passing the PRO Act,” said McCabe.

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 12:40

05/04/2021 - 10:47am
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Profiles: Lucela Watson Lucela Watson

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this year, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights in the U.S. Today's profile is Lucela Watson.

Lucela Watson is a porter at Excalibur and has been a member of Culinary Workers Union-UNITE HERE Local 226 since 2015. “Being a Culinary Union member has changed my life and my family’s lives,” Watson said. “For me, job security is the most important part of being a member. Without a job, you cannot survive. My daughter is in the Philippines, and I am working on bringing her here to Las Vegas to be with me. But because I have a union job, I can support her in ways I couldn’t before. I have rights at work, job security, health care and, when I retire, I will have a pension. I love being a Culinary Union member!"

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 09:27

05/04/2021 - 10:47am
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Texas Labor Movement Speaks Out Against Voter Suppression Laws

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Union members and labor leaders from across the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation gathered to denounce efforts to pass oppressive voter suppression laws in the Texas Legislature, standing across the street from the site of Houston’s first sit-in in 1960.

Voter suppression bills under consideration in the Legislature are squarely aimed at counties such as Harris and Fort Bend with majority Black and Latinx populations that have worked to expand voting rights during the pandemic. Instead of focusing on solving problems such as our failing energy grid, big-government conservatives are working to disenfranchise people of color and take away power from the local officials who ran the safest, most secure election in Texas history.

The Texas labor movement is united in opposition to H.B. 6, S.B. 7 and all efforts to suppress the right to vote.

Participants in the event included leaders from Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 6, Transport Workers (TWU) Local 260, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) Gulf Coast, Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 129, CWA Local 6222, Teamsters Local 988, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-1, Machinists (IAM) District 141, IAM Local Lodge 811, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) Council 42, Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 51, and Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 88.

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 08:29

Tags: Community Service, COVID-19

05/03/2021 - 10:30pm
Empower Workers and Protect Rights: The Working People Weekly List Working People Weekly List

Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

Pass the PRO Act to Empower Workers, Protect Rights: "The United States Senate should pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), five human rights and labor groups said today in releasing a question-and-answer document about the issue. The Senate should seize on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle rampant economic inequality by empowering workers and building a more just and human rights-based economy."

Organized Labor Puts Heat on Democratic Holdouts to Support PRO Act: "Senators who haven’t yet voiced support for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act might soon hear from more constituents on the matter. The AFL-CIO labor federation says it’s spending seven figures on television and radio ads aimed at bolstering Senate support for the PRO Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions. The ads will run in Arizona, Virginia and West Virginia―states with moderate Democratic senators whose support, or lack of it, could determine the bill’s fate."

Unions Applaud Biden OSHA for Advancing COVID Safety Standard to Protect Workers: "'Make no mistake, an emergency OSHA standard will save lives,' AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in response to the move. 'We're grateful for the Department of Labor's work in getting the standard to this point, and we urge swift issuance of the rule.' 'Strong enforceable standards that require employers to develop workplace COVID-19 safety plans, implement science-based protection measures, train workers, and report outbreaks are necessary for reducing infections and deaths, and beating this virus,' Trumka continued."

Biden to Raise the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors to $15, Giving Roughly 390,000 Workers a Pay Bump: "'This is a victory for working people across the country, but we can’t stop fighting until everyone has the same guarantee,' John Weber, AFL-CIO spokesperson tells CNBC Make It in a statement. 'Building a just recovery means giving workers a fair return on our hard work and finally raising the federal minimum wage to $15.'"

Biden Names Former AFL-CIO Official Celeste Drake as 'Made in America' Director: "President Joe Biden on Tuesday named Celeste Drake, a former AFL-CIO official, as the first 'Director of Made in America' at the Office of Management and Budget. The White House said in a statement that Drake would shape federal procurement policy, to help carry out Biden's vision for a future 'made in all of America by all of America's workers.' One of Biden's early executive orders as president tightened 'Buy American' rules in government procurement. Drake joins the administration from the Directors Guild of America and was the trade and globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO."

President Biden Will Promote Unions Through a White House Task Force: "President Biden will sign an executive order on Monday creating a task force to promote labor organizing, according to a White House fact sheet. The task force, to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and populated by cabinet officials and top White House advisers, will issue recommendations on how the federal government can use existing authority to help workers join labor unions and bargain collectively. It will also recommend new policies aimed at achieving these goals."

Labor Experts: The Power of Unions Could Be Rising Again: "Steven Tolman, the president of the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts, an umbrella union group, has seen unions’ longtime challenges firsthand. The former state senator was a railroad worker in the early 1970s, and he said he watched as businesses’ increasingly hardline stances toward unions became more common. Today, he said, unions remain critical for their ability to improve the lives of their working members. 'We are the only ones able to fight inequality,' Tolman said. 'If you have a union, you have the right to stand up against injustice, the right to advocate for safer working conditions, and most importantly, the right to good wages.' A bill, the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, Act, would limit employers’ ability to stand in the way of union organizing and strengthen the government’s powers to punish companies violating workers’ rights. It faces a daunting challenge in the Senate, but experts nonetheless see a shift in place."

President Trumka Talks Infrastructure and PRO Act: "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined Bloomberg Radio to discuss the importance of passing the PRO Act and a complete infrastructure package."

What This Workers Memorial Day Needs: "[Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill] Londrigan said it is undeniable that OSHA has greatly improved worker safety and health for all workers. 'Indeed, multiple studies bear out the fact that union workplaces have been far safer because unions provide a voice on the job where workers can join with management to address workplace hazards and implement solutions jointly.' Added Londrigan: 'Recognizing the linkage between worker safety and strong trade unions is another critical reason for Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. For the past 50 years, trade unions and our members have been under constant attack from anti-union multinational corporations and politicians bankrolled by big business.'"

It’s All Too Easy for Employers to Interfere in Union Elections: "Earlier this month, we saw a more prominent example of this phenomenon, when workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted by more than 2 to 1 against joining a union. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) It followed several other high-profile organizing defeats in recent years, including autoworkers at Volkswagen in Tennessee and Nissan in Mississippi, as well as Boeing employees in South Carolina."

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 10:00

05/03/2021 - 4:00pm
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Honoring the Fallen Workers at the Foundation Food Group Poultry Plant on Workers Memorial Day Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

The Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council was joined by GA Familias Unidas, Sur Legal Collaborative, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health for a vigil in Gainesville, Georgia, to commemorate the workers of Foundation Food Group who have died. Last Wednesday marked the three-month anniversary when six workers lost their lives during a deadly nitrogen leak at the plant.

“This is a crisis across Georgia,” said Executive Director Sandra Williams (RWDSU-UFCW) of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council. “The figures from the [U.S.] Bureau of Labor Statistics show a 15% increase in deaths from workplace trauma from 2015 to 2019, and we mourn over 207 Georgians who died in work incidents in 2019, that’s not accounting for the pandemic’s toll on the lives of working people.”

In coming together to remember the fallen workers of Georgia, we urge our elected officials to support the PRO Act, a piece of legislation that will expand protection for workers in multiple industries by expanding coverage under the Fair Labor Standards Act and protecting workers’ rights to form unions, and we demand the White House and [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to stop delaying the emergency temporary standard to make COVID safety guidelines specific and mandatory.

Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council President James Williams (IBEW) added:

January’s tragedy at Foundation Food Group should have been prevented, and those workers should be with us here today. All workers have the right to be safe on the job. Wednesday’s event in Gainesville for Workers Memorial Day was both to mourn those we have lost, but also to reaffirm that we are going to keep fighting like hell for the living.

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 08:37

Tags: Community Service, COVID-19

05/03/2021 - 10:00am
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Profiles: Tina Chen Tina Chen

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this year, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights in the United States. Today's profile is Tina Chen.

Tina Chen serves as secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 2 in San Francisco. Chen is a first-generation immigrant from China who first joined the labor movement as a hotel housekeeper. She has helped lead victorious campaigns in San Francisco for good jobs, affordable health care and respect for a diverse workforce.

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 08:00

05/01/2021 - 3:00pm
In Honor of International Workers' Day, We Must Pass the PRO Act

May 1 is International Workers' Day, a symbolic time to conclude our PRO Act National Week of Action. To mark the occasion, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) sends the following message:

Every year on May Day, working people and our unions across the country and around the world take action to show that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. All working people are entitled to living wages, basic rights and dignity on the job—regardless of where we were born, what language we speak and what faith we practice. This International Workers’ Day, we are rising up and calling on senators to immediately pass the PRO Act and immigration reforms that will ensure all workers can join together to demand rights at work.

To fix the systems that have failed working families, we must be united across borders. Together, we can rewrite the rules of the global economy and ensure that workers are no longer treated like disposable commodities. America’s unions are fiercely committed to transforming the lives of working people through bold, structural changes that remove all barriers to the right to organize. In order to build worker power to lift standards in our workplaces, we must finally enact meaningful immigration and labor law reforms.

This includes the protection of and expansion of civil rights. The right to vote, and the right to have that vote accurately counted, is a fundamental building block of democracy and one of the most important ways for working people to express our voices. Just as it is important to fight for fairness in the workplace, it's also important that working people can vote for candidates who will work on our behalf. Protecting every working person's right to vote is a critical part of any labor reform effort.

As we mobilize this May Day, America’s labor movement and our allies are engaged in a full-scale, national campaign to win a long overdue path to citizenship and pass the PRO Act, which would give the tens of millions of workers who want to form a union a fair path to do so. There is much more we need to do to ensure all people are able to live and work safely and with dignity, which is why we are fighting for our right to join together and demand changes to the rules of our rigged system. We will continue to mobilize to demand reforms that uplift the standards and rights of all workers, with no exclusions.

Sat, 05/01/2021 - 09:00

04/30/2021 - 2:30pm
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: What Solidarity Means to the NFLPA and the Labor Movement

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Solidarity is about teamwork, togetherness and toughness in the face of adversity. “Anytime someone asks our men to become less of a man, less of a person merely because they put on the uniform, I’d rather they not wear that uniform,” said NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Executive Director DeMaurice Smith (pictured above). “Why should our members not see an inextricable line that goes between what they are doing when they take a knee on the sideline to what men and women have done for hundreds of years, standing up for what they think is right?” Watch this new video from the AFL-CIO and the NFLPA about what solidarity means to our unions. And hear from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA), NFLPA President JC Tretter and others as they discuss the connections between the affiliated unions of the AFL-CIO.

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 09:47

Tags: COVID-19, Community Service

04/29/2021 - 2:30pm
5 Ways the PRO Act Will Help Address Systemic Racism PRO Act

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.) have introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which restores the right of workers to freely and fairly form a union and bargain together for changes in the workplace. The PRO Act is landmark worker empowerment, civil rights and economic stimulus legislation and an essential part of any plan to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. The provisions of the PRO Act will help all working families, but in particular, the PRO Act will help address systemic racism.

Here are five ways it does that:

1. The union advantage is greater for Black, Latino, women, immigrant, LGBTQ and other workers who have experienced workplace discrimination. Black, Latino and women workers are paid 13.7%, 20.1% and 5.8% more, respectively, when they belong to a union. Union contracts pay women and men the same for doing the same job. You cannot be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity under a union contract.

2. The latest research shows that the rapid growth of unions in the 20th century dramatically reduced inequality by extending the union advantage to more workers, particularly lower-income workers and Black workers, while at the same time raising standards for nonunion workers across entire industries. Growing today’s labor movement is the only policy that has the scale necessary to take us off our current trajectory of ever-growing inequality. Without it, broadly shared prosperity that extends to most working people has virtually no chance.

3. Another consequence of declining worker power and economic failure is that more and more people lose confidence in the system as a whole. To restore that confidence and strengthen our democracy, we need to make the economy work for working people. The more our democracy functions properly, the more of a voice Black, Latino, women, immigrant, LGBTQ and other workers will have.

4. A union contract is the single best tool we have to close racial and gender wage gaps, and to ensure dignity and fair treatment for all workers, regardless of where we were born, who we are, or what industry we work in. More than 65% of union members are either women or people of color, and Black workers are the most likely of any demographic group to be union members (13.5%). The decline of unionization has played a significant role in the expansion of the racial wage gap over the past four decades, and an increase in unionization would help reverse this trend.

5. The PRO Act would reduce inequality, ensuring that workers share in the benefits of future economic growth and the rising productivity that will be fueled by technology, and give workers a say in how technology is deployed in the workplace. The PRO Act also includes specific provisions to correct trends that may be troubling in the future such as employers washing their hands of responsibility toward the workers who make them profitable. 

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 09:30

Tags: PRO Act

04/29/2021 - 2:30pm
Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Ohio AFL-CIO Calls on Business to Pay Fair Share to Repair Ohio Unemployment Compensation System Ohio AFL-CIO

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

For the past decade, Ohio Republicans have yet to fix Ohio's broken unemployment system. Last week, Governor Mike DeWine has called on the legislature to tackle the issue, but rather than adjust the corporate taxable wage base to be in alignment with the national average (which is lower than any of Ohio’s neighboring states), the business lobby is calling on Republican legislators to limit eligibility and cut needed benefits to workers.

In an interview with WCBE’s Andy Chow, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga (USW) said, “When you look at how front-line workers have put their health on the line to get us through this pandemic, I think we’re going to see an opportunity where the employers will understand that they need to step up and just do the average with what the rest of the country is doing to help move the system into a solvency place.”

In the interview, the business community believes workers should take a decrease in benefits. Burga disagrees, saying Ohio has a long history of extending a helping hand to workers laid off through no fault of their own, and this gives our state a competitive workforce advantage.

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 09:00

Tags: Community Service, COVID-19

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