Thursday, September 30, 2010

Moratorium on Home Foreclosures

TThe AFL-CIO welcomes the decision by JP Morgan Chase to temporarily halt processing home foreclosures, and we call on the rest of the banking industry to declare a nationwide moratorium on home foreclosures. Millions of working families are on the precipice of losing their homes, and we must stop the avalanche of foreclosures if we are going to save our communities from further economic harm.

In rallies and town hall meetings across the country, union members have demanded that the banks pursue alternatives to foreclosure such as modifying homeowners’ mortgages to more affordable levels. The banks must also stop abusive practices such as the use of “robo-signers” to process thousands of home foreclosures each month without properly reviewing the files associated with each home.

Unemployment is the leading cause of foreclosure, and millions of homeowners have lost their jobs because of the financial crisis and economic recession. Foreclosures hurt the property values of neighborhoods, the credit ratings of homeowners, and the possibility of an economic recovery. The same banks that caused the financial crisis must now do the right thing and stop home foreclosures.

Statement by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker on
JP Morgan Chase
’s Moratorium on Home Foreclosures
September 30, 2010

This Date in Arkansas Labor History

1919 White planters attack and fire upon a meeting of the Progressive Farmers' and Household Union of America in a church at Hoop Spur, leading to the "Elaine Massacre."

1957 Pluss Poultry of Siloam Springs refuses to abide by arbitrators award in favor of Food Handlers Local 425, Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, regarding dues check off and job postings.

1971 David Gunderfest of Arkansas Retailers Association testifies before U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor for exemptions from raising federal minimum wage to $2.00.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

On Labor Day, Work to Save the Middle Class

This Labor Day feels gloomy. It’s a celebration of work when there is not enough of it, a day off when too many desperately seek a day on.

America has commemorated two Labor Days since this brutal recession began near the end of George Bush’s presidency in December of 2007. Now the relentless high unemployment, the ever-rising foreclosures, the unremitting wage and benefit take-backs have replaced American optimism and enthusiasm with fear and anger.

Happy Labor Day.

On this holiday, we can rant with Glenn Beck, kick the dog and hate the neighbor lucky enough to retain his job. Or we can do something different. We can join with our neighbors, employed and unemployed, our foreclosed-on children, our elderly parents fearing cuts in their Social Security lifeline and our fellow workers worrying that the furlough ax will strike them next. Together we can organize and mobilize and create a grassroots groundswell that gives government no choice but to respond to our needs, the needs of working people.

We can do what workers did during the Great Depression to provoke change, to create programs like Social Security and achieve recognition of rights like collective bargaining. These changes were sought by groups to benefit groups. In a civil society, people care for one another. And America is such a society – one where people routinely donate blood to aid anonymous strangers, children set up lemonade stands to contribute to Katrina victims and working families find a few bucks for United Way.

The self-righteous Right is all about individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. That proposition – the do-it-all- by-yourself-winner-takes-all philosophy – clearly failed because so many Americans are jobless, homeless and too penniless to afford boots.

Over the past decade, the winner who took all was Wall Street. The banksters gambled on derivatives and other risky financial tomfoolery and won big time. Until they lost. And crashed the economy. After the American taxpayer bailed them out, those wealthy traders returned to making huge profits and bonuses based on perilous schemes.

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

Since 2007, 8.2 million workers have lost jobs. Millions more are underemployed, laboring part-time when they need full-time jobs, or barely squeaking by on slashed wages and benefits. Since the recession began, the unemployment rate nearly doubled, from 5 percent to 9.6 percent, and that does not include those so discouraged that they’ve given up the search for jobs, a decision that is, frankly, understandable when there are only enough openings to re-employ 20 percent of the jobless. Five unemployed workers compete for each job created in this sluggish economy.

And American workers weren’t prepared for this downturn, having already suffered losses in the years before it began. The median income, adjusted for inflation, of working-age households declined by more than $2,000 in the seven years before the recession started.

At the same time, practices like off-shoring jobs and signing regressive international trade deals contributed to the loss of middle class, blue collar jobs. A new report, “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market,” by the Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, says:
“The decline in middle-skill jobs has been detrimental to the earnings and labor force participation rates of workers without a four-year college education, and differentially so for males, who are increasingly concentrated in low-paying service occupations.”

The recession compounded that, the report says:
“Employment losses during the recession have been far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or low-skill service occupations.”

What that means is high roller banksters are living large; lawn care workers and waitresses subsist on minimum wage, and working class machinists and steelworkers are disappearing altogether.

The researchers found the U.S. economy is increasingly polarized into high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low wage jobs. America is losing the middle jobs and with them its great middle class.

No wonder the rising anger in middle-class America.

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

We must demand support for American industry, particularly manufacturers of renewable energy sources like solar cells and wind turbines that create good working class jobs, increase America’s energy independence and reduce climate change.

We must insist on policies that support the middle class, including preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment insurance while joblessness remains high, and enforcing the health care reform law so that every American worker and family can afford and is covered by insurance.

On this Labor Day, we should all have a picnic, invite neighbors, friends and family, and over hot dogs and potato salad, organize to save the American middle class.

Mobilize to end the gloom and restore American optimism.


Leo W. Gerard
International President, United Steelworkers
September 3, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Study Highlights the Importance of Workplace Safety

Workers Rate Safety Most Important Workplace Issue in New Labor Day Study

Fatal Accidents Can Trigger Public Concern – But Follow-Through Lags Too Often, Experts Say

More than eight of ten workers — 85 percent — rank workplace safety first in importance among labor standards, even ahead of family and maternity leave, minimum wage, paid sick days, overtime pay and the right to join a union, according to a new study from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The study, "Public Attitudes Towards and Experiences with Workplace Safety," draws on dozens of surveys and polls conducted by NORC, one of the nation's leading academic survey operations, think tanks and public opinion firms. NORC’s analysis sought to gain a picture of Americans' experiences with workplace safety issues. The study was done for the Public Welfare Foundation, based in Washington, DC, which supports efforts to improve workers' rights.

Despite widespread public concern about workplace safety, the study also found that the media and the public tend to pay closest attention to safety issues when disastrous workplace accidents occur. Even during those tragedies, the fate of workers is often overlooked, such as during the recent oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Workplace safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted," said Tom W. Smith, director of NORC’s General Social Survey (GSS). "It is striking that coverage in the media and public opinion polls has virtually ignored the 11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the drilling platform."

Instead, Smith pointed out, the media coverage and the polls focused on the environmental impact of the disaster, overlooking the worker safety aspects. But he noted that "if optimal safety had been maintained, not only would the lives of the 11 workers been saved, but the whole environmental disaster would have been averted."

Robert Shull, Program Officer for Workers’ Rights at the Public Welfare Foundation, stated that, "Workplace safety should be a constant concern. Given the importance that workers themselves place on this issue, we should not have to mourn the loss of people on the job before government and employers take more effective measures to ensure that employees can go home safely after work."

On August 19, the U.S. Department of Labor reported in a preliminary count that the number of workers who died on the job in 2009 fell 17 percent from the previous year, as workers clocked in for fewer hours because of the recession. While Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis called the results “encouraging,” she also noted that "no job is a good job unless it is also safe."

Despite a decrease in workplace fatalities, the study found reports of incidents of injury at work to be high.

Although most workers say they are satisfied with safety conditions at work, they also report job-related stress, a contributing factor to injury. The most recent NORC study on job-related stress, done in 2006, reported that 13 percent of workers find their jobs always stressful, while 21 percent find their jobs often stressful.

"Exhaustion, dangerous working conditions and other negative experiences at work are reported by many workers," Smith said. "Such conditions mean that workplace accidents are far from rare."

The new study done for the Public Welfare Foundation found that about 12 percent of workers reported an on-the-job injury during the past year and 37 percent said they have required medical treatment at one time for a workplace injury.

"Unsafe working conditions end up costing the public dearly," added Shull. "But no matter what the cost to the general public, the workers and their families pay the highest price."

The survey report is available here.

Known since its founding in 1941 as the National Opinion Research Center, NORC conducts high-quality social science research in the public interest. To learn more about NORC, visit The General Social Survey is supported with grants from the National Science Foundation.

The Public Welfare Foundation is a national foundation with assets of more than $460 million that supports efforts to ensure fundamental rights and opportunities for people in need. Its current primary areas of focus are Workers’ Rights, Health Reform, and
Criminal and Juvenile Justice. For more information, please visit