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Louisville Courier-Journal: ‘Right to work’ harms working families

McMurrayIn the hit series “The West Wing,” a character mistakenly refers to Kentucky as a right-to-work state. In defense of the show’s writers, you can understand their confusion. Kentucky remains the only state in the South not to pass one of these laws, which shows our political independence and common sense. But Republicans in Frankfort, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and a group of out-of-state, big-moneyed special interests are doing everything in their power to change that.

I strongly oppose right-to-work legislation because I love Kentucky and want a bright future for our children and grandchildren. Right to work is a sham. It is, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a false slogan” which will “rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”

Slogans are catchy. They are designed to get a quick emotional reaction rather than a detailed understanding. That is why I believe some polls show support for these laws. No one opposes the right of Kentuckians to go to work and earn a living. But slogans are also misleading. They do not tell the full story. A majority of Kentuckians also support collective bargaining and higher wages, both of which are under attack as a result of right to work. As people learn more about who is behind right to work and the harm it causes working families, opposition is going to grow substantially.

So who is behind right to work?

Right to work is being pushed and bankrolled by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a former member of ALEC who has seen similar battles in his state, called it “nothing more than a corporate-funded and dominated group that operates much like a dating service, only between legislators and special interests.”

Here is how it works. Corporations pay ALEC to wine and dine legislators. In turn, the legislators agree to introduce bills written by ALEC. It’s nothing more than a form of legalized bribery. Who do you honestly think ALEC is looking out for — the people of Kentucky or their corporate contributors? Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has made a career carrying the water of special interests, is also behind right to work. He even went so far as to offer a national right-to-work amendment to civil rights legislation last year.

What does right to work mean for working families? To answer that, there is a brand new study from the University of Illinois and the numbers are disturbing. Right to work reduces wages and salaries by an average of 3.2 percent. It lowers both the share of workers who have health insurance and a pension. It reduces union membership by 9.6 percent. And workers are forced to rely 24 percent more on taxpayer-funded government assistance. In other words, right to work would make Kentucky poorer, sicker, less likely to have retirement security, and more reliant on Uncle Sam. We deserve better.

I am a proud member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227. Every few years, my co-workers and I sit down with the company to negotiate the terms of our employment. There are disagreements, but we have always managed to work out a deal without any help from the government. All we want is a fair wage, decent benefits, and respect on the job. Our employer is making profits and I happen to think a happy, healthy, unionized workforce is a big reason why. Right to work assumes that business and labor are unable to bargain a fair contract without the assistance of a bureaucrat. I think in Kentucky, we do just fine on our own.

When it comes to right to work in Kentucky, “The West Wing” got it wrong. Let’s get it right by electing candidates who oppose this misguided legislation.

Shannon McMurray is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227.

UFCW Local 227 Members Get Out The Vote in Kentucky

Local 227Members of UFCW Local 227 are knocking on doors, making phone calls, and visiting worksites in an effort to get out the vote in Kentucky.

The Bluegrass State is home to one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the country. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who introduced national right to work, is facing a fierce challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes. Local 227 members Chuck Duckworth, Chawan Morgan, and Abigail Shake—all employees of Kroger—have been working hard to get Grimes across the finish line.

“McConnell has sucked the life out of Kentucky,” said Morgan. “We need a fresh face, some new ideas, and a different direction.”

“Alison Grimes understands our struggles,” Shake agreed. “She’s not Washington—she’s Kentucky.”

McConnell’s support for right to work and the close battle for control of Kentucky House of Representatives has brought the issue of workers’ rights front and center.

“We’re the only southern state that’s not right to work,” Duckworth said. “I think this election is very important to keep it that way.”

“I have job security, health insurance, annual raises, equal pay and so many other benefits,” Shake added. “Right to work would take that away.”

The Local 227 members all talked about the importance of reaching out to their coworkers. “For me to go to a door and see a single mom raising three kids on her own, working a job and doing everything she can to get by, for me to help educate her about how to make life a little easier, that’s what is important,” Shake said.

Or as Morgan put it: “It’s about solidarity—being united and strong.”

UFCW Michigan Members Continue Canvassing Campaign

SteveDawnGent876UFCW members continued an aggressive canvassing operation this past week in Michigan. They are going door to door working to convince every resident they talk to that their vote matters in the November 4th midterm election.

“We need our government to start working for the people. That won’t happen until more people vote and involve themselves,” said Dawn McClanahan, a member of UFCW Local 876. “We’re canvassing and holding conversations with voters to increase turnout and increase the voice of workers at the ballot box.”

For UFCW Local 876 member Steve LeVey, the memory of 2010 has inspired him to get out the vote this year.

“I remember too well what happened in 2010. The everyday people who won the 2008 election stayed home and we got stuck with a Governor and a state legislature that passed right-to-work. We can’t afford another election like 2010.”

Victory for McClanahan, LeVey, and other UFCW members in Michigan would be electing Congressman Mark Schauer as Governor.

“We’re supporting Mark Schauer because he’s the only candidate who’s committed to helping workers,” said LeVey. “His vision for Michigan is all about making life better for the common man and woman.”

Staff from locals across the country and the International Union will be pouring into Michigan and other battleground states this week to help UFCW members get out the vote for candidates who champion workers and their rights.

Take Back Michigan

DSC_0005Anita Green, Emily Emmons, and Lori Baker will be spending the closing weeks of the 2014 election canvassing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. All three work at Meijer and are members of UFCW Local 951.

“We’re here to get the word out and spread knowledge,” said Lori Baker. “Most of our reaction on doors has been positive. It’s amazing how many people have thanked us for stopping by. Too many just think about the Presidential and that it isn’t time yet, but it is time. We are canvassing to get more people educated and aware so that more people will vote.”

There is a lot at stake in Michigan this election. Current Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed “right to work” into law in 2012. The chance to elect Mark Schauer as Governor of Michigan, a candidate who cares about making Michigan’s economy work for everyone, has been motivating.

“Right to work has been a major issue with people we’ve talked with. They’re upset about it because it sounded good, but it’s just another tool for management to have even more of an upper hand over workers,” said Emily Emmons. “People we’ve talked to are realizing that right to work has just lead to less job security.”

“We can overturn right to work if enough people come out and vote,” added Lori Baker.

Decisions are made by those who show up. Thanks to Anita, Emily, Lori, and dozens of other UFCW members across Michigan, more people are going to have a say in the 2014 midterm election.

“People want to know that their voice and their vote counts,” said Anita Green. “Talking with them about the election reinforces that. Everyone we talk with sees that we believe in this. We want them to vote because it’s their right and their voice really matters.”

National Voter Registration Day

Did you know that in 2008, six million Americans didn’t vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register?

We can’t let that happen again – the 2014 election is just too important to working families. This election will determine whether the Senate and countless state and local governments fight to raise the minimum wage and expand workers’ rights or to bust unions, slash budgets, and cut taxes on the rich. We need to make sure that every UFCW household has its voice heard this year.

Can we count on you? Then register today. 

Today is National Voter Registration Day, and our allies at Rock the Vote have created a website with all the information you need to make sure you’re registered.

Forms, key dates, and other voting information are all included.

Make your voice heard. Get registered today.

UFCW and OUR Walmart Help Pass Paid Sick Day Legislation in California

OUR Walmart Paid Sick CaliforniaAfter intense lobbying from UFCW members and members of OUR Walmart, both houses of the California legislature have passed a bill guaranteeing workers up to three paid sick days a year.

The legislation includes part-time and temporary workers, making it one of the strongest in the nation. Home health care workers are exempted. Governor Jerry Brown has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

About 40 percent of California’s workforce is currently not eligible for paid sick days. Across the state, retail workers successfully made the case that no one should be forced to risk their job and their livelihood just because they get sick.

The United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee paid sick leave to workers. Late last year, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the FAMILY Act, a bill to create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program. House Republicans have refused to bring it up for a vote.

In the meantime, UFCW members, OUR Walmart, and their allies will continue to push for action at the state and local levels.

UFCW President Hansen Statement on Executive Order Creating a Pro-Worker Procurement Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement in response to President Obama’s executive order designed to ensure that the United States only does business with companies that respect workers’ rights.

“The President’s executive order makes clear that the U.S. will not do business with companies that violate our nation’s labor laws. Employers who cheat workers out of wages, fail to provide safe workplaces, and illegally retaliate against those who try to organize a union should never be considered for a government contract. On the other hand, companies that uphold our laws and treat their workers with dignity and respect should be given preference when it comes to federal procurement.

“Today’s announcement builds on years of work by UFCW members and our partner unions to create a system that is fairer for workers and encourages a race to the top when it comes to labor standards. These efforts included a 2013 resolution passed unanimously by delegates to the UFCW convention calling on the creation of a ‘High Road’ procurement process.

“In the last several years, the meat and poultry industries have received over 1 billion dollars from taxpayers. Many workers in these industries work full-time yet are not paid enough to support themselves or their families. They also must endure dangerous workplace conditions and chronic underreporting of injuries by their employers. This executive order sends a message that companies who engage in this type of anti-worker activity must change the way they do business or lose access to their government contracts.

“I want to thank President Obama, Secretary of Labor Perez, and all those involved in crafting this executive order. Today’s announcement is an important first step in ensuring our government is doing everything in its power to protect America’s workers.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

UFCW President Hansen Statement on Schedules That Work Act

Schedules That WorkWASHINGTON, D.C. Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement regarding introduction of the Schedules That Work Act.

“If you ask a worker in the retail industry what improvements can be made to their job, the response is likely to include scheduling. Fair, flexible, and reliable scheduling is a simple way to ensure workers are treated with dignity and respect. In a perfect world, employers would view workers as human beings with competing life demands rather than numbers on a balance sheet. But in reality, scheduling is more erratic than ever.

“The Schedules That Work Act would provide workers modest safeguards and begin to curb the most abusive scheduling practices. This includes a presumption that workers who need a schedule change due to child care, school, a second job, or medical needs will receive that change unless there is a bona fide business reason not to. The legislation also provides retail workers advance notice of their schedules and guarantees minimum pay when they are sent home from work before completing their entire shift.

“This legislation would ensure all workers have the rights fought for and won by UFCW members for decades. Our contracts have long guaranteed predictable and adequate scheduling. The law of the land should do the same. I urge Congress to pass the Schedules That Work Act as soon as possible.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

Roll Call: Ban BPA and Other Toxic Chemicals

In 2012, a six-year study was published that examined the occupational history of more than 1,000 women, finding that those who worked in the automotive plastics and in the food packaging industries were five times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women in the control group. One of the main chemicals used in their workplaces? Bisephenol A, better known as BPA.

Two years earlier, the President’s Cancer Panel, an advisory committee attached to the National Cancer Institute, identified a variety of toxic chemicals, including BPA, that may be causing “grievous harm.”

And yet this chemical is still in products Americans consume every day.

BPA is used to make plastics and resins in thousands of consumer products, including food packaging, despite the fact that it poses serious health risks for consumers, workers and children.

The dangers of BPA have been well demonstrated. Exposure, even at minimal levels, has been linked to numerous health problems, including breast cancer, altered fetal development, infertility and behavioral changes.

The list of items that contain BPA is long, but progress by the Food and Drug Administration to adequately protect consumers has been slow and inadequate. In the wake of strong pressure from lawmakers and the public and changes in industry practices, the FDA has banned BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula packaging. Many private retailers and manufacturers have also banned BPA in food containers for young children. But much more is needed.

In order to fully protect children from exposure to BPA, we must also protect pregnant women and all of the foods they and young children may ingest. BPA is still used in all sorts of other food packaging, exposing not only those who consume those products, but also the factory workers who assemble them, to harmful levels of BPA.

That is why recently we introduced the Ban Poisonous Additives Act, which would remove BPA from food packaging, encourage the development of safe alternatives, and ensure a thorough safety review of all substances currently used in food and beverage containers. The bill also explicitly requires the FDA to examine the effects of BPA on the workers who may be disproportionately exposed to BPA during the manufacturing process.

The BPA Act is supported by numerous public health and cancer advocacy organizations, as well as United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the Communication Workers of America, the United Steelworkers and the United Automobile Workers, who represent the workers who handle BPA on a daily basis.

We join with this broad coalition of consumers, workers and families who are calling for action. Banning BPA from food and beverage containers is common sense, and everyone will be safer for it.

Sen. Edward J. Markey is a Democrat from Massachusetts, Rep. Lois Capps is a Democrat from California and Rep. Grace Meng is a Democrat from New York.

UFCW President Hansen Statement on the Supreme Court’s Decision in Harris v. Quinn

WASHINGTON, D.C. Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn.

“In today’s Harris v. Quinn ruling, the anti-worker Supreme Court sided with those who want to deprive employees of any ability to collectively bargain with their employers. This decision primarily affects home health care workers, but sets a terrible precedent for other Americans seeking a voice on the job.

“This is the Supreme Court’s latest attack on the foundation of our democracy. From weakening the Voting Rights Act to allowing unfettered corporate money in politics, the conservative justices are all too willing to do the bidding of anti-worker special interests. Workers and unions will respond to this latest attack as we always have—by redoubling our efforts to bring a voice on the job and fair wages and working conditions to all Americans.”

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.