Tag Archives: workers rights

This Labor Day, Let’s Unite to Fight for the Middle Class

 by California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski

There’s a threat to America’s economic future that’s so overlooked it’s gone almost unnoticed amid the endless debate over the debt ceiling and federal spending: massive income inequality.

This Labor Day, the gap that separates the very wealthy from the rest of us is as wide as it was in the Great Depression. Since the economic collapse of 2008, workers have suffered through joblessness, home foreclosures, reduced wages and benefits and a sustained assault on our right to collectively bargain. Did you notice that corporate profits are soaring and Wall Street bankers are receiving fatter bonuses than ever? And we wonder why our middle class is disappearing before our eyes.

When FDR gave workers the right to bargain collectively amidst the Great Depression, he did so because he believed strong unions would create a strong middle class. History proved him right. It’s a fact that when union membership increases, so do wages and benefits for ALL workers, not just union members. Unions raise the bar for everyone – which means even non-union employers offer better wages and benefits in order to stay competitive.

But the opposite is also true. Weakened unions lead to a weak middle class. As union membership has declined over the past 40 years, so have workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions. According to a new study published in the August issue of the American Sociological Review, the decline of union membership since the 1970s explains about a fifth of the increase in wage inequality among women and about a third among men.

In other words, the corporate assault on unions is dragging down the entire economy.

For more than 100 years, unions have been the primary counter-force to corporate greed and excess, pushing for common-sense labor standards like the minimum wage, weekends, health care and retirement security. But without strong unions, corporations have no counterbalance. It’s not a surprise that as union membership has declined, corporations have grown more and more powerful, and workers’ share of the pie has been reduced to crumbs.

The corporate CEO crowd still isn’t satisfied. Anti-union forces – both across the country and in California – are hell-bent on crushing workers’ rights, unions and the middle class. It’s not just in Wisconsin.

From San Jose to Costa Mesa, attacks on unions and workers’ rights are happening right here, in towns and cities across California. And now, right-wing extremists have launched an all-out assault on all of us by once again pushing for a “paycheck deception” ballot measure to silence our voice in political campaigns. If they succeed, Big Business execs will have cleared the field of any opposition, and income inequality will grow, wiping out any hope of the American Dream for most families.

Every generation has its fight for justice. The fight to rebuild the middle class and create a fair economy is ours. If ever there was a time to unite around our shared ideals, the time is now.

That’s why, this Labor Day, we all must come together– union members and non-union members, public sector and private sector – to beat back these attacks. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Join together with your co-workers. Volunteer with your union. Corporations may have the money, but that can never match our grassroots power.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that “the arc of history bends toward justice.” But sometimes, even history needs some help. It’s up to us to give it that boost so that we can create a brighter future for our families, children and grandchildren.

California Fighting Back on Colombia Free Trade Act

By Tim Robertson, California Fair Trade Coalition

Since 2005, more than half the trade unionists murdered in the world have been killed in Colombia. That's more in Colombia alone than in the other 190+ countries combined. Just last year, 51 more trade unionists were murdered bringing the total since 1986 to over 2700. Unfortunately, President Obama is ignoring these facts to push for the long-stalled Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a relic of the Bush Administration, in a move that can only be seen as an affront to his union base.

Not only is Colombia the most dangerous place in the world for union activity, an implied complicity with Colombia's government, in particular the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), has led to an approximate 96% impunity rating. Could you imagine the U.S. response if over the course of 2010, there were one CEO murder per week in Colombia with little investigation and few convictions or punishments? It certainly wouldn't be to liberalize trade rules.

Sadly, the President knows and understands the plight of unionists, peasant leaders, Afro-Colobians, and other organizers in Colombia. He even campaigned against the FTA because of such violence.

Since then, nothing has changed in Colombia, with 47 union assassinations in 2009 in addition to the 51 from 2010, more than even in 2007 when the FTA was initially negotiated (ironically, some view FTAs as incentives for good behavior). The President shouldn’t support a corporate-first FTA with Colombia, while glossing over the violence he lamented during the election.

That's why the AFL-CIO, the California Labor Federation, the California Democratic Party, and most major unions are calling on their members to stand up and fight to stop the President's free trade expansion plans. Along with FTAs with South Korea and Panama, the Colombia FTA constitute the President's extension of the Bush-era trade agenda which is poised to cost more American jobs, and endanger the lives and livelihoods of our brothers and sisters around the world.

California, with its 53 Members of Congress, is key to stopping these FTAs and protecting worker power both in the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately, they will easily pass if our representatives don't hear from us, which is why the California Fair Trade Coalition is hosting two organizational calls this Tuesday, May 24, and distributing info and lobbying guides to arm activists to stop the corporate takeover of trade.

Joining the call will be Sacramento Central Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Bill Camp, to discuss his personal experiences with union violence in Colombia. Other speakers include a brief guide to lobbying and organizing on trade issues by the California Fair Trade Coalition.

All three FTAs could be introduced to the House within weeks. If we're going to stop them, now is the time.

Please RSVP for the calls, Tuesday, May 24, so that we can ensure we have enough lines. Can't make it? Sign up here and we'll send you an info and lobby guide.

The attack on working families isn’t just in Wisconsin

In Madison, Wisconsin working families are fighting for their most basic right – to be able to bargain together for living wages, safe working conditions and fair benefits.

They are not alone in their struggle.  Here in California, we have seen attack after attack launched against working families and public employees.  Some have even gone so far as to say that California state employees shouldn’t have collective bargaining rights.

That’s why I am leading the effort to block the confirmation of David Crane to the UC Regents.  Can you sign this letter to help?

David Crane is a multi-millionaire investment banker and appointee of Governor Schwarzenegger.  He is a donor to both campaigns of George W. Bush and actively supporter San Francisco’s Proposition B which would have unfairly double health care costs for children of San Francisco city employees.

Mr. Crane recently published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle which questioned the appropriateness of collective bargaining rights for state employees.  

That’s why I am leading the effort to block the confirmation of David Crane to the UC Regents.  Can you sign this letter to help?

300 workers joined the rally last week to protest Crane’s nomination.  That, of course, was ignored by the Chronicle.  But when Mr. Crane called the paper and told them it was all a “Big Lie”, they immediately published a one-sided editorial attacking me and working families.

We can’t let this attack go unanswered.  That’s why I’m asking you to take action.

Can you sign this letter to help?

I know together we can win in Madison and across this country.

Why Wisconsin Matters to ALL Workers

by Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski

I recall vividly my first union job. At the age of 16, I joined the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union as a supermarket clerk. I remember the good wages in my first paycheck and the sense of pride I felt when I received my first union card.

Back then, about a quarter of all private sector workers were union members. Collective bargaining allowed us a path to a better life. The standard of living rose, not just for those of us in a union, but even for those who weren’t.

But today, too few workers have the right to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Years of assaults by corporations on the freedom to join unions have taken a terrible toll.

As the protests rage on over Gov. Scott Walker’s politically motivated attempt to strip Wisconsin’s public workers of collective bargaining, there’s too little discussion in the media about the decline in bargaining rights for private sector workers. Instead, opportunistic politicians like Walker have used the current economic crisis to help further their agenda to divide the middle class.

As private sector unionization declined from 25 percent to about 7 percent today, a gargantuan share of our nation’s wealth has left the middle class and gone to the very wealthy. Today, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans receives 25 percent of our nation’s total share of income, up from 8.9 percent in the 1970s. CEOs, who once made 40 times what rank and file workers made, now rake in 350 times that of the average worker.

Meanwhile, wages for most of us have stagnated or declined over the last decade. Big corporations and Wall Street are profiting off an economic meltdown they largely created while middle-class families suffer. Corporations made record profits in 2010, while doing nothing to create jobs or boost workers. Wall Street bonuses and compensation are up too. Last year, Wall Street firms – including those bailed out by taxpayers — gave out more than $20 billion in executive bonuses.

The attack on unions has a direct correlation to the massive income inequality we face today. Big corporations have turned their back on their workers by reducing wages, cutting benefits and union busting. It used to be that CEOs had a stake in their workers’ economic security. Now it’s all about corporate profit, which the vast majority of workers never benefit from.

The real issue in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where workers’ rights are under assault isn’t state budgets. Public servants like teachers, nurses, bus drivers and firefighters are in no way responsible for the economic crisis battering our families. These attacks are all about the extreme right-wing and their corporate backers furthering their goal of destroying ALL unions and the middle class we advocate for.

If more workers had the freedom to join unions and bargain collectively, there’d be more wealth in the hands of the middle class. And we’d have a healthier society as a result.

That’s why what’s happening in Wisconsin and other states matters to all workers. If the right-wing extremists succeed in these attacks, corporate CEOs and the politicians they control will forever alter the playing field in their favor, and our once-thriving middle class will become just a footnote in the history of America’s decline.

That’s why every worker must join this fight. This is our moment to stand united to defend our values, and beat back these vicious attacks on our unions, our families and our ideals. Click here for more information and ways you can get involved.

Apologize, Meg!

Rather than come clean with the public about her mistreatment of her former housekeeper, Meg Whitman lied to cover it up. When attorney Gloria Allred caught her in a lie, Whitman still refused to apologize. Whitman even stooped so low as to wrongly accuse the housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan, who she employed for nine years and said was a “member of her extended family,” of stealing her mail.

At a time when voters are desperate for their leaders to be accountable for their actions, Whitman has failed miserably to live up to the standards by which we should hold anyone running for elected office. She’s blamed Nicky, Jerry Brown, his allies and others, but has never once admitted any wrongdoing or taken any responsibility for her own actions.

Today in front of Whitman’s East LA office, a group of domestic workers joined SEIU United Service Workers West (USWW) President Mike Garcia, Assemblymember Hector de la Torre and State Senator Gil Cedillo to call on Whitman to open tomorrow night’s debate with an apology to Nicky and the people of California for the mistreatment and hurtful allegations she directed at Nicky, and the lies she told in an attempt to cover up the scandal.

The domestic workers, on behalf of millions of Californians who live in the shadows because of exploitation and mistreatment from the Meg Whitmans of the world, demanded that Whitman own up to her mistakes immediately.

Julia Moreno, who worked as a live-in maid for 25 years:

Everyone who works hard in California deserves to be treated with dignity, but Meg Whitman thinks she can use people when it’s convenient and then turn her back on us when we need help.

The domestic workers also unveiled a new petition demanding that Whitman apologize, and allowing Californians to stand in solidarity with Nicky and all exploited workers. The petition, which can be found at www.ApologizeMeg.org, will remain live until Whitman finally does the right thing and apologizes to Californians for her actions.


SEIU USWW President Garcia:

Whitman has blamed everyone else for her own mistakes, going so far as to accuse her housekeeper of being a felon who would steal the family’s mail, and Meg Whitman needs to apologize for this accusation. We’re demanding that in the last debate before Election Day Meg Whitman apologize to Nicky, the Latino community, and all voters in California.

Latino leaders Cedillo and De la Torre said that elected officials bear a special responsibility to the public, and Whitman’s actions – and the subsequent lies she told to cover them up – raise serious questions about her fitness for any public office, much less Governor.

The mistreatment and accusations Nicky suffered at the hands of billionaire Whitman are unfortunately all-too-common obstacles immigrant workers face. Lelis Juarez, who spoke at today’s press conference, is a housekeeper who is owed over $3,000 in back wages by her former employer.

We are here today on behalf of Nicky and all the people who live in the shadows so that their families can have a better life. The fact that Meg Whitman, a billionaire, was willing to cheat Nicky out of her hard-earned money shows she has no idea what it’s like for people like us who earn just enough to scrape by. If Meg Whitman can’t even treat those who work in her home with respect, dignity and compassion, how do you think she’s going to treat California workers if she becomes Governor?

It’s been nearly two weeks since Nicky came forward to bravely tell her story. It’s past time for Meg Whitman to issue a public apology for the hurt she’s caused Nicky and so many others. Join the call for Whitman to apologize at www.ApologizeMeg.org.

Flash Mob Boycotts Westin St. Francis

What do you get when you combine good old direct action tactics, a boisterous hotel boycott and a Lady Gaga hit?  

A YouTube flashmob called “Caught in a Bad Hotel.”  On May 8th, San Francisco Pride at Work teamed up with One Struggle One Fight and the Brass Liberation Orchestra in a direct action to urge a boycott of the Westin St. Francis on Union Square.  Workers at the hotel have been fighting for a fair union contract that includes decent wages and healthcare benefits, and are now calling on the community to boycott the Westin St. Francis, along with other downtown hotels.  

Besides being a very fun and enjoyable video, this kind of protest is far more effective than the standard demonstrations that liberal San Francisco has gotten used to.  In Taking On the System, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas argues that political activists must adapt to the technology of their era.  Gandhi used newsreels shown in movie theaters, Sixties protesters used the mass street protest — which was effective at the time, because everyone only watched 3 channels and getting Walter Cronkite on your side could move the country.  Today, with our decentralized media and more people online, YouTube flash-mobs are the direct action of the future.

This 5-minute video is one of the funnest political protests I’ve ever seen.  As one participant later said, “it’s more fun to protest with the gays, cause we’ve got the attitude and we know how to dance.”  For more details, check out http://www.sfprideatwork.org

California Labor Federation Launches Campaign to Expose Meg Whitman’s Wall Street Agenda

Meg Whitman spent last week crisscrossing California with her Wall Street pal Mitt Romney, pumping up her already overflowing campaign coffers with even more corporate cash. Her campaign strategy is clear: write big checks and avoid a real conversation with voters about her background, her policies, and her plans for the state.

But California’s workers aren’t going to let Meg and her Wall Street agenda take the express jet to the Governor’s office. While Meg and Mitt were rubbing elbows with the corporate elite, an army of nurses, educators, construction trades workers, and others who would be directly impacted by Meg’s anti-worker agenda were putting the final touches on our campaign to expose her plans to do Wall Street’s bidding and what her Governorship would mean for California’s families.

Today, the California Labor Federation launched a massive grassroots campaign massive grassroots campaign that will deploy an army of volunteers to expose the truth about Meg Whitman’s Wall Street agenda and her history on the board at Goldman Sachs. The campaign will counter Whitman’s avalanche of TV ads and estimated $150 war chest with online tools as well as and person-to-person contact, which is proven to be the best way to reach voters.

The brand-new website www.WallStreetWhitman.com will bring the pieces of the grassroots campaign together online. Serving as a one-stop information hub that exposes the truth of Whitman’s Wall Street agenda for California, www.WallStreetWhitman.com will also enable worker activists to engage others in the campaign through extensive use of email and social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter.

Union voters represent about 1 out of every 5 voters who will go to the polls on Election Day, and many millions more share the same concerns about what Meg Whitman’s agenda will mean for their families. Our plans to reach millions of member voters and deploy tens of thousands of volunteers to speak to their like-minded friends, neighbors, and co-workers will be critical to defeating Meg Whitman’s agenda, which includes plans to fire 40,000 public employees, roll back critical consumer protections that protect our healthcare, and take away worker’s rights, to name a few.

Meg Whitman’s wants to corporatize and downsize the California economy, which will be disastrous for everyone who works hard for a living in California – whether they are union members or not, whether they work in the public sector or the private sector. While Meg’s campaign is fueled by her allegiance to Goldman Sachs and the Wall Street culture that destroyed our economy, our campaign is powered with the passion of tens of thousands of workers who are determined to build better lives for themselves and their children.

We’re ready to spend from today through Election Day getting out the truth about Whitman’s record and letting voters know exactly where she stands on the issues they care about, including jobs, health care, education, and workers’ rights. Join us at www.WallStreetWhitman.com.

Steve Smith is communications director at the California Labor Federation, which represents 2.1 million workers in 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions across the state.

Paid for by the California Labor Federation. Not authorized by a candidate or committee controlled by a candidate.

Say No to Manchester: Boycott Continues

Doug Manchester played a relatively unsung, but crucial role in qualifying Prop 8 for the ballot. His $125,000 donation came in at a critical time when the proponents were running out of cash during the signature gathering process.

It is conceivable that Prop 8 would not have made it on to the ballot, if it were not for Doug Manchester.  In response to that donation and the poor treatment of his workers a boycott of his hotels was established a year ago, and has now cost Manchester upwards of $7 million in canceled reservations.

He has hired gay heavyweight PR crisis man Howard Bragman to respond to the boycott.  Their genius idea was to offer up $100,000 in hotel credits and a $25,000 contribution to any 501c3 organization that supports civil unions.

It was a cynical attempt to try and buy-off and divide the LGBT and labor communities.  And it’s not working.  No way.  No how.

Today, the Courage Campaign, Equality California, UNITE HERE and Californians Against Hate have teamed up to launch the “Say No to Manchester” website, asking our members to sign a pledge to uphold the boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt and Grand del Mar Resort.

It’s a relatively unique campaign with labor and LGBT organizations coming together to support workers rights and equality.  These types of coalitions are crucial for building progressive power here in California.  Any repeal of Prop 8 will need support from our brothers and sisters in labor and they need our help on their organizing efforts for workers’ dignity and rights.

Boycotts don’t always work, but this one has been effective, though not perfect.  Unfortunately, the California Bar Association has refused to move their annual.  Jenny Pizer from Lambda Legal:

“The bar associations recognize that many of their members will not feel comfortable attending conference activities at the Manchester Hyatt given its owner’s extraordinary personal support of the campaign that made gay people and their families unequal under law, and undermined the basic rights of all minority groups in California,” she wrote.

Of course, Bragman tries to wedge labor and LGBTs.

Bragman added that the boycott was less about LGBT rights, and more about the hotel workers trying to unionize. “The union issues and the boycott and the GLBT issues are apples and oranges,” he said. “They are two separate issues. We frankly have a boycott that is being funded and designed by people who have motives other than the GLBT community in an effort to unionize the properties.”

Is it inconceivable to Bragman that LGBTs care about workers rights AND their own rights, not to mention the fact that shocker of all shockers, there are LGBT hotel workers?  Like I said earlier, we are unified and will not let Manchester divide us, try though they might.

Flip it for the email we sent out to our members today.

Dear Julia —

It’s time for unity in the face of those who seek to divide us.

Doug Manchester, owner of the second-largest Hyatt hotel in the country — and the man who donated $125,000 in crucial early seed money to the Prop 8 campaign — has launched a cynical public relations campaign to divide the marriage equality and labor movements.

That’s why the Courage Campaign and Equality California are teaming up to reject Manchester’s attempt to divide Californians. Will you join us?


Here’s the story:

Doug Manchester owns the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego. When he gave $125,000 in early seed money to the “Yes on 8” campaign — a critical infusion of urgent cash that paid for the signature-gathering to put Prop 8 on the ballot — Californians Against Hate teamed up with Cleve Jones and the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE to lead a boycott of Manchester’s hotels, subsequently joined by the Courage Campaign, Equality California and several other organizations concerned about equality and workers’ rights.

Launched in the summer of 2008, this highly successful boycott is believed to have cost Manchester’s Grand Hyatt more than $7 million in lost business. Despite the success of this growing boycott, Doug Manchester has refused to apologize, refused to meet with the organizations leading the boycott, and refused to improve conditions for hotel workers.

Instead, Manchester has tried to buy off LGBT organizations by offering $100,000 in “hotel credits” and $25,000 to any 501(c)3 organization that supports “civil unions” — a tax write-off for Manchester that dodges full support for marriage equality and could never be used to fund a repeal of Prop 8, the passage of which Manchester made possible.

No one has accepted.

Today, the Courage Campaign and Equality California are launching the new “Say No To Manchester” web site along with UNITE HERE and Californians Against Hate and asking our members to sign a pledge to join the Manchester boycott. Please click here to add your name today:


By signing this pledge, you will increase pressure on Doug Manchester to make a public apology for his $125,000 donation to Prop 8 and negotiate an honest, fair resolution with boycott organizers.

Thank you for joining the Courage Campaign, Equality California, UNITE HERE, and Californians Against Hate. Standing together in solidarity, this growing movement for equality and fairness will win.

Rick Jacobs

Chair, Courage Campaign

Willie Brown Profits off the Backs of Unpaid Workers

Everybody’s gotta eat, but does Willie Brown really need to eat this badly?  The former California Assembly Speaker and Mayor of San Francisco is now a private citizen and practicing attorney.  Now he’s representing  a contractor charged with 48 felony counts, accused not only of defrauding the State of California out of over $1 million in money that would have been used for schools and public services , but even worse, she forced  employees to work 60-72 hour weeks but paid  them for only 10-40 hour weeks.  Monica Ung cheated 19 workers out of $3.6 million!

What’s up with Willie Brown?! These workers were immigrants who did not speak English, and did not know their rights!


To me, the fact that Willie L. Brown Jr., supposed Stalwart of the Democratic Party, is taking blood money to defend Ung  and NOT the workers themselves, is a clear sign of how ridiculously corrupt our whole political and legal process has become.  Does Willie Brown have no shame?!  

Sure, everyone deserves their day in court, but the last time I checked, the Democrats were supposedly the ones standing up for the little guys, not the other way around.  

If you agree with me, use this opportunity to tell Willie what you think and call his office at (415) 348-0348, or better yet, come to the Hayward Courthouse this Friday July 24, 2009, at 1:30 p.m. where Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation will be on hand to tell Willie what real Democrats think about him and his client.  

Perspective on The Governor’s Budget Gambit – Pure Cruelty

With this epic FAIL maneuver on the budget, Arnold Schwarzenegger signaling here that his little state employee wage cut gambit didn’t work.  It didn’t produce the kind of compromise he wanted and it sent him tumbling in the polls as he attempted to cynically hold innocent bystanders hostage in an unrelated fight.  So he had to cut off all bills instead.  Maybe now, he thinks, the legislators will take notice.

But let’s understand what he’s doing here.  Yesterday, as a culmination of four years of work, Alan Lowenthal’s bill to clean up the ports of Oakland, LA and Long Beach passed the State Senate.  Eliminating the toxic pollution at the ports would save 3,700 lives annually according to the California Air Resources Board.  The bill would enact a $30 container fee on every import, using that money ($300 million annually) for investment in reducing pollution and improving freight rail.  It’s a milestone bill that is sorely needed to improve the air quality of these communities.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Arnold’s latest stunt will actually kill thousands of people from reversible diseases.

There’s a bill pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee authored by Fiona Ma (AB 2716) which would deliver guaranteed paid sick days to all California workers.  This bill has the support of 73% of the public and would make the state the first in the nation to provide this to their residents.  Arnold would rather stamp his feet and issue ultimatums than improve the lives of Californians and do the bidding of the overwhelming majority of the public.

On health care, while we cannot expect a comprehensive plan to come out of this legislative session, there is a deal coming together that would improve health care for those who have insurance by mandating some strict rules for the industry:

In the final weeks of the legislative session, they are negotiating measures that would limit insurer profits on individual plans, require plans to provide a minimum set of benefits and restrict insurers’ ability to cancel policies retroactively […]

Three million Californians buy health insurance on their own rather than through employers. Insurers keep premiums low — and profits high, their critics say — on some individual policies by limiting the services they cover. Such plans may exclude prescription drugs and maternity services, for example; others may cover only hospital visits.

Many of the policies have big deductibles and require patients to pay large portions of their expenses, costing them much more than coverage obtained at workplaces.

The game-playing by Arnold on the budget means that, in all likelihood, these rules will not go into effect, and individual consumers of health insurance (like me) will remain incredibly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the insurance industry, which has shown already a penchant to deny coverage and jack up premiums.  That too will put the lives of Californians at risk.

There’s a human cost to the bullshit that Terminator Boy isn’t accounting for.  His head is in the clouds, and he thinks he can bully the legislature liked he bullied people in scripted movies for decades.  But the recklessness will cost money, pain, suffering, and even lives.