U.S. Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ)
The Right to
By U.S. Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ)
I joined the IBEW as an electrician’s apprentice in 1979, and spent the following decades wiring buildings, lighting bridges, and fighting for the rights of my fellow workers. I felt the dignity of working with my hands, and I saw the benefits of union membership. Hard work provided me with the pay and benefits to support a growing family and the opportunity to help others do the same.
As a business agent, I fought for fair contracts, safe workplaces and higher wages. As the president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Labor Council for seventeen years, I forged relationships with businesses and governments to create jobs and put my union brothers and sisters to work. And now, as the only electrician in Congress, I’m fighting to defend Davis-Bacon, create jobs, and defeat a national “right-to-work” law.
As Americans, we are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness — and we already have the right to work. When corporate billionaires push “right to work,” what they’re really saying is that the right to work is all we have, regardless of the pay or the conditions. They’re saying we have the right to work for less, in less safe conditions, with less secure retirements. They’re saying we’re on our own – and they’re wrong.
So-called “right-to-work” states rank among those with the lowest union membership, and as this egregious law spreads across the country, union membership nationally steadily declines. Workers in right-to-work states make an average of about $1,500 less a year, they pay more for health insurance coverage, and they have less secure retirement benefits.
The consequences of this corporate union busting have been devastating for all workers. Despite these clear facts, 28 states have passed phony “right-to-work” laws to limit unionizing — including two new states just this year.
They’re selling a fake bill of goods to working-class Americans who have real frustrations and fears. Unfair trade agreements and greedy corporate boards have outsourced their jobs and slashed their wages to the point they’re desperate for change at any cost – even giving up their rights.
With more than half the country having passed these anti-worker laws, union members now stand at a pivotal crossroad. We can submit to corporate interests or recommit to fighting for our rights.
When they claim to be fighting for the “right to work,” we must point out how low their bar is. The dignity of a job is critical, but it doesn’t amount to much if you can’t feed your family and provide for their future. We’re not just fighting for the right to work – America’s unions are fighting for the right to respect.
The sense of respect that comes from having a career that gets you ahead, that leaves you and your family better off, that makes you proud to go to work. Anyone can run in a hamster wheel, and too many of us have fallen behind. What we need is a fair deal that gets American families ahead in life.
I’m inspired by the workers who joined together to kill a “right-to-work” bill in New Hampshire. We must follow their lead and unite in solidarity to defeat these corporate anti-worker bills at every level of government. We must redouble our efforts and communicate our core values to all workers.
President Trump promised to fight for American workers – and now we must hold him and every elected official accountable to their promises. Write the president, call your representatives, demand action from your state’s leaders, and march in the streets if that’s what it takes.
Tell them: we have the right to work; we want the right to respect. ■
On October 24, more than 350 picketers turned out for a rally and picket line at EA offices in Playa Vista, Calif. in response to failed negotiations with video gaming companies that union officials say have been unwilling to meet even close to where the needs of its members are.
The strike involves the following video game employers: Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. The strike applies to games that went into production after February 17, 2015, for the aforementioned employers.
In a statement issued in early October by the union, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said, “Through many months of bargaining with interactive employers, we have not reached a fair agreement covering SAG-AFTRA performers working in video games – often the most popular games in the world. Our members have been clear, now is the time for employers to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry.
“A strike is not to be entered into lightly, but when the employers leave us with no recourse, we must stand firm for our members. It is imperative that we secure for them the protections, compensation and benefits they deserve,” Carteris added.
The Union’s Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez noted that members working in the video game industry were negotiating to reach a fair contract, but that progress had essentially been stalled for more than a year.
“We need a contract that fits the needs of our members working in video games,” said Rodriguez. “So far employers have been unwilling to meet us even close to where the needs of our members are.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made the following statement regarding the SAG-AFTRA Video Game Strike:
The AFL-CIO stands in solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA voice-over and motion-capture performers who are on strike after failed negotiations with eleven video game employers. Performers deserve a modern contract that offers the protections necessary to work in today’s video game industry.
No one wants a strike. But, for nearly two years video game employers have been unwilling to meet basic demands necessary to bring this collective bargaining agreement up to the standards of other mature industry contracts. We urge video game employers to negotiate in good faith and work with SAG-AFTRA to bargain a fair agreement. ■
“A critical part of the safety net is being both attacked and eroded in no small measure because there are no federal minimum standards for workers’ compensation”
— DOL Secretary Tom Perez
A recent U.S. Department of Labor report lays out in gory detail the problems with workers’ compensation programs in the U.S., noting that those hurt on the job are at “great risk of falling into poverty” because state workers’ compensation systems are failing to provide them with adequate benefits. Unfortunately, the DOL has no oversight of workers’ compensation programs and has not monitored state compliance since 2004 because of cutbacks.
According to the report, more than 30 states have changed their workers’ compensation laws since 2003, favoring employers far more than workers. In most instances, states have decreased benefits to injured workers, created hurdles to medical care, raised the burden of proof to qualify for help and shifted costs to public programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
Employers are reaping the rewards—the cost of insurance has decreased dramatically and insurance companies are paying their overages back to corporations in the form of dividends. Since 1988, the average cost to employer has declined from $3.42 for every $100 paid in wages to $1.85 per $100.
“With this report, we’re sounding an alarm bell,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in an interview with ProPublica, which had published a series of articles with NPR on the issue over the past year and a half (https://www.propublica.org/series/workers-compensation).
The Grand Bargain
Workers’ compensation was created more than 100 years ago. It was a response to challenging and horrific workplace injuries which left workers devastated and employers vulnerable to lawsuits. Labor and business compromised: workers injured on the job gave up the right to sue their employers for personal injury damages in return for less generous but more certain benefits, guaranteed pay and medical care. The compromise became known as The Grand Bargain.
In 1972, The National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws in its final report to Congress noted that “in general, workmen’s compensation programs provide cash benefits which are inadequate.”
Now, with the rollbacks of the laws’ protections, the programs are not only inadequate, they are a burden on injured workers and on taxpayers. In fact, in some instances, employers have set up a system that require workplace injuries be reported before the end of a shift, which leads to a denial of a claim of injury that only becomes apparent after leaving work or even a few days later.
“A critical part of the safety net is being both attacked and eroded in no small measure because there are no federal minimum standards for workers’ compensation,” said Perez.
In 1972, the National Commission agreed on five basic objectives for workers’ compensation programs: broad coverage of employees and work-related injuries and diseases; substantial protection against interruption of income; provision of sufficient medical care and rehabilitation services; encouragement of safety; and an effective system for delivery of the benefits and services.
No Federal Oversight Leads to State Cuts
Compliance with the report’s recommendations increased substantially over the next decade, despite no federal law compelling compliance. By the mid 1980s, though, states realized that federal intervention to enforce the Report’s recommendations was not forthcoming, and the rollbacks began.
No one was paying attention except the employers reaping the rewards and the legislatures responding to lobbyists who pushed for changes.
During the recession, states used the rolled back laws to attract businesses to their states.
Twenty-two states now set arbitrary time limits on injured workers’ temporary wage benefits. Ten states allow “independent medical reviews” of workers’ compensation claims to assess the recommendations of the injured workers’ doctors. Ten states have also increased the use of pre-existing conditions to limit or deny care after workplace injuries. There are now 37 states that restrict a workers’ ability to choose their doctor. In 18 states, employers can select the physician who treats their injured workers at least initially, according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute. In another 19 states, the injured worker is required to choose from a list of doctors — sometimes as few as four — approved by their state, insurer or employer.
“Again and again, American workers are being robbed of their rights, health protections and fair compensation,” said Rich Kline, president of the Union Label Department. “This is just another example of how the anti-government, anti-regulation agenda pushed by big business is fragmenting our laws and destroying working families in the process. No one should be pushed into poverty because they are injured on the job.”
“If you work in a full-time job, you ought to be able to put food on the table,” said Perez. “If you get hurt on that job, you still should be able to put food on the table, and these laws are really undermining that basic bargain.”
“I hope that Congress will step up,” he added. “We have to fix this system.” ■
On September 7, 2016, the AFL-CIO officially endorsed the boycott of the Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX per the request of UNITE HERE President, D. Taylor.
The boycott includes the Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX, Yokoso Sushi Bar, the Landing Restaurant, Century Taproom, and the Boulevard Market Cafe.
The boycott endorsements adopted by the AFL-CIO Executive Council will remain in effect for up to one year, unless UNITE HERE requests an earlier termination of the listing. At the end of the first year, the union may request for the hotel to continue to be included on the list for another 12 months.
Electing the right people to office is an important part of ensuring that workers’ rights are protected. The new Working Families Toolkit (www.wftoolkit.org ) — built by the AFL-CIO — aims to make electing the right candidates easy. This web-based tool offers prebuilt materials for virtually every race taking place around the country.
Materials can be ordered as social media ready files and pdf documents that are emailed to you, or they can be printed by the AFL-CIO’s union contracted printer and delivered to you free of charge.
To create materials using the toolkit, visit www.wftoolkit.org to register and follow the prompts. A quick guide to using the toolkit can be found on the Union Label’s website at http://wp.unionlabel.org/download/13880/
Training is available through the AFL-CIO Campaigns Department. Contact Emilia Torre, firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your quick 30-minute tutorial today.