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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Labor Rights"

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U.S. Nurses Bring Global Call to Tax Speculators to Wall Street

June 22, 2011 ·

Nurses from across the United States rallied on Wall Street today, calling on the financial industry to pay their fair share of the costs of the economic crisis. 

Coming from the frontlines of the suffering, the nurses had some gut-wrenching stories to tell. Sandy Falwell, who has worked in an intensive care neonatal unit for 20-plus years, told one of the most painful: After a woman gave birth to a 2-pound baby, the woman told Falwell that she blamed herself for her baby’s premature birth. During her pregnancy she had been unable to afford insulin treatments for her diabetes — in part because she was taking care of her elderly parents.

Nurses rally for a financial transaction tax. Photo by Marlee Blasenheim.How does the nurses union that spearheaded the rally propose to raise the funds necessary to cover the costs of such urgent needs? National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro explained:  “There’s a financial transaction fee that we’re going to have Wall Street pay. They have paid it here in the past. It’s very American. These yo-yos who buy and sell and buy and sell our country should have to pay a tax on that.”

The way such taxes work is they place a small fee on each trade of stocks, derivatives, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments, with the goal of raising massive revenues while also discouraging reckless speculation.

As DeMoro mentioned, the United States had a transactions tax from 1914 to 1966, which levied a 0.20 percent tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled the tax to help financial recovery and job creation during the Great Depression.

The Wall Street rally was part of a global day of action on financial transactions taxes involving more than 35 countries. The actions were timed for the eve of a meeting of leaders of European Union nations, where the debate over such taxes is much further along than in the United States. There are high hopes that Europe will implement them in the near future, which would give a big boost to U.S. advocates.

Here are a few highlights from other countries, where many of the campaigns have taken on a “Robin Hood” theme:

  • In Berlin, Robin Hoods rolled giant Euro coins down the street to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s residence, where someone who looked an awful lot like her (except with a head four times as large as a normal human) received the money as she prepared to depart for the European Council meeting.
  • In Lebanon, the League of Independent Activists did a direct action on the Central Bank, opening a banner in English and Arabic that states: "Big Day for a Tiny Tax," before delivering a statement to government officials.
  • In Brussels, activists met the Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who assured them that his government will support a Europe-wide transaction tax.
  • In Nepal, activists met their Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister and delivered a lobby letter before taking their message to different historical sites in Kathmandu.
  • In Norway, a casino/stock exchange installation was set up alongside a “Robin Hood forest” in the center of Oslo.
  • In New Zealand, activists with 350.org and Oxfam did an action at a shopping mall, resulting in this not-to-be-missed short video of a break-dancing Robin Hood. 

For more on these actions and continued coverage of the global day of action, click here.

Karen Higgins, a co-president of National Nurses United, told the crowd on Wall Street, “Around the world, we’re calling for a more fair and just economy. The finance tax we’re talking about comes from the trillions of trade of stocks and bonds sold here every day. The revenue is badly needed in our communities.”

The nurses union was joined on the street by a long list of other unions and organizations, including the Amalgamated Transit Union, Vocal NY, AFSCME, UNITE HERE Local 100, Community Voices Heard, Transport Workers Union Local 100, United Steam Workers, and PSC-CUNY.

A big theme of the day was that the New York rally was just the beginning of what they're hoping to be a growing movement. Minnesota nurse Jean Ross, clearly angered by the role of the financial industry in creating the current crisis, said, “Wall Street should be happy that we’re just talking about a financial transaction tax. We could be talking about restitution.”

Global Victory for Domestic Workers

June 16, 2011 ·

The ILO voted by a whopping 396 to 16 margin to adopt a "historic set of international standards" known as the Convention on Domestic Workers.

Domestic workers celebrate after ILO passes convention on domestic workers.This great news from Geneva was many years in the making, as domestic workers from all over the world have been organizing in their home countries and through the International Domestic Worker Network (IDWN) for rights and respect. It has been on the ILO's official agenda for two years — last year was spent on the work of drafting the convention, and this year was spent on finalizing and preparing for a vote. For the next few years, the ILO will work for widespread ratification and offer technical assistance on implementation to member countries.

In the United States, the organizing effort for domestic workers has been led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) a partner of Break The Chain Campaign, an Institute for Policy Studies project. The AFL-CIO, which has typically represented U.S. labor in the tripartite International Labor Organization system (labor, employers, and government), opened up seats on the delegation so that domestic workers could represent themselves in the meetings and even have an official vote.

I believe that this convention will open the doors to other "excluded workers" around the world (and in the United States) to use the ILO system to push for rights and recognition.

The nature of the domestic worker industry lends itself to abuse. In the United States, this workforce is comprised largely of immigrant women of color, doing work that has been regarded as "women's work" (thus not "real work" but something that women are expected to do as part of their natural role), and work which takes place in the private, unregulated household, where workers are typically alone. Adding to this stacked deck is the fact that many important U.S. labor laws simply don't cover domestic workers.

At the Break The Chain Campaign, which has fought migrant domestic worker exploitation and human trafficking since 1997, we hope that the ILO convention will have a significant impact on the severe abuse and trafficking of domestic workers. We have assisted more than 250 domestic workers in the DC/MD/VA metro area, a large number of whom arrived to the United States on legal work visas — particularly the A3 (for domestic workers employed by diplomats) and G5 (for domestic workers employed by staffers of the World Bank/IMF and other international organization).

This convention's widespread ratification will push both the countries that send migrant domestic workers and those that receive them to acknowledge that domestic workers are real workers, not powerless individuals who are expected to remain in quiet servitude and endure long hours without overtime pay, along with hazardous working conditions without access to health and safety protections.

It will also end the "cultural relativity" excuse that sleeping on a mattress in an unheated garage is "better than what she would get in her home country" or "the way that servants are treated according to tradition." Workers will be armed with the knowledge that there is an international standard that protects them.

I hope that the United States will be a leader and ratify this convention. The State Department has recently begun to implement provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2008) that specify protections for A3/G5 visa holders and other temporary non-immigrants (such as a "know your rights brochure" that is supposed to be given to domestic workers before they arrive in this country). We hope that the State Department will advocate for U.S. ratification, use its diplomacy missions to spread the word about the convention, and use it as a companion to its worldwide anti-trafficking work. In the meantime, our laws must match the international law proposed in order for the ILO convention to be ratified here.

Domestic workers have already won labor rights through legislation in New York State and a similar California law is in the works. Now we have the promise of this convention to guide our national work. This is truly a victory in itself.

For more information, please check out NDWA Director Ai-jen Poo's recent FPIF commentary.

Domestic Worker Rights Movement Gains Traction in California and Geneva

June 8, 2011 ·

Domestic workers rally in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of Jobs with Justice

This week, a delegation of domestic workers from the National Domestic Workers Alliance left for Geneva, Switzerland to attend the annual International Labor Conference held at the International Labor Organization (ILO) every summer. Last June, member countries voted to have a convention (instead of the weaker option, a recommendation) on "Decent Work for Domestic Workers," and on June 16 they will vote on its passage. NDWA members are representing the United States as the labor arm of the tripartite system of the ILO (labor, employers, and governments), thanks to an historic partnership with the AFL-CIO (who are usually at the table representing US labor). The AFL-CIO has opened up seats in the delegation so that domestic workers can share their own testimony and experiences, and have a vote.

The convention would provide minimum protections for domestic workers around the world — including provisions related to contracts, payment, sleeping and living conditions, and even withholding of passports and other protections aimed at addressing the inherent danger of exploitation faced by domestic workers in many countries, including the United States.

Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I just received from Jill Shenker, the NDWA field director:

We will write more soon, but tonight, at 9:14 pm, the governments, employers, and workers at the ILO adopted the 19 articles of the International Labor Convention for Decent Work for Domestic Workers. It was an amazing negotiation process and the text sets forth fundamental labor standards for domestic workers — a huge step forward in our struggle to win human rights for domestic work, recognition that we deserve labor protections like any other worker, and respect for the fact that domestic workers are a force to be reckoned with! At the end of the session tonight, the domestic workers from around the world burst into song — first a song from our domestic worker sisters in South Africa, and then "Solidarity Forever," and you could feel not only the tremendous victory for domestic workers, but also the injection of spirit for the trade unionists, governments, and ILO staff

This year, the NDWA delegation, and its sister organizations from around the world, has been busy educating themselves and their fellow domestic workers on the ILO process, the rights outlined in the draft Convention, and even the next steps they will need to take to push for widespread ratification of the Convention. While the US government has been very supportive of the Convention and has provided very progressive responses to the questionnaire that is used to help the ILO develop the Convention, whether the United States will ratify the Convention remains to be seen. What we do know is that the more rights domestic workers gain in the United States, the closer the US will be to being able to reconcile U.S. laws with the international law proposed (a necessary factor for ratification).

To that end, domestic workers in California had a huge victory this week as the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (closely modeled on New York State's Domestic Worker Bill of Rights that was signed into law last August) was passed out of the Assembly.

For centuries, domestic work (including housekeeping, childcare, and caring for individuals with disabilities and seniors), has been undervalued despite its enormous importance to families. It is, as many workers, economists, and advocates have observed, "the work that makes all other work possible." In the United States, this workforce is comprised largely of immigrant women of color — so in addition to the work itself not being considered "real" work, the individuals are vulnerable to gender and racial discrimination that makes organizing for rights an even harder task. Our labor laws do little to ameliorate this problem, specifically excluding domestic workers from many fundamental labor protections, including the right to organize and in some cases even the right to minimum wage and overtime compensation. The link between our country’s history of slavery in agriculture and domestic work, and the fact that these two industries remain among the least protected, isn't a coincidence.

I'm happy to have played my part in the struggle for justice and recognition of domestic workers, as a social worker, writer, researcher, facilitator, note-taker, food orderer, and friend. As an ally, I know my role, and it is powerful to know that this movement for domestic worker rights is being LED by domestic workers themselves. In countries around the world, they have challenged discrimination, challenged exploitation, and challenged the idea of others speaking for them. In their organizing, domestic workers speak to more than just abuse, they also share personal stories of affection and bonding with the employing families. Most tell me they really enjoy and love the work of care, and only wish to be granted the same rights and respect that other workers receive. The victories in New York and California and this new ILO convention are only the beginning of what we hope will be a transformation in this industry.

An Eye-Opening Window into America's Executive Suites

April 19, 2011 ·

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, for his annual efforts at the helm of America’s largest labor federation, makes four times the pay that goes to the federation’s typical employee.

Michael Jeffries, the CEO at national retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch, has been making close to 1,000 times the pay that goes to his typical employee. Shareholders at Abercrombie seem to feel their CEO makes too much.

Last April, in advisory “say on pay” balloting, these shareholders voted against Abercrombie’s executive pay plan. How did Abercrombie’s corporate directors respond? They moved quickly to show how much they feel their shareholder pain. The directors announced a stiff new limit on how much free personal travel CEO Jeffries can take on the Abercrombie jet.

In 2009, the value of this free personal travel perk topped over $800,000. Jeffries must now reimburse the company for any personal travel over $200,000.

Has a new day on CEO pay finally dawned in America’s corporate boardrooms? Not exactly, notes the just-released new 2011 edition of Pay Watch, the AFL-CIO’s energetically informative executive compensation Web site. Abercrombie CEO Jeffries did lose, the new Pay Watch points out, over a half-million in corporate jet perks. But the Abercrombie board, in exchange for the perk limit, agreed to up the total Jeffries take-home by an additional $4 million!

Incredibly revealing anecdotes like this Abercrombie outrage abound in the new AFL-CIO Pay Watch, the best one yet. But Pay Watch does an equally effective job placing these anecdotes in a broader perspective — and, in the process, thoroughly debunks the rationalizations for excessive executive pay that spout regularly from the lips of CEOs and their handlers.

Does current CEO compensation truly reflect, as these handlers love to claim, “pay for performance”? Over the last decade, the new Pay Watch observes, “CEOs of the largest American companies received more in compensation than ever before in U.S. history.” Yet corporate share prices ended 2010 19 percent off their year 2000 high.

The new Pay Watch’s most vital contribution to the ongoing debate over executive pay? That may well be the site’s sublime interactivity.

You can compare, on Pay Watch, how many years you would have to work to match what the CEO at your workplace makes in just one. And you can contrast the pay of superstar CEOs with an assortment of take-homes elsewhere in the American economy — and share the results, for the first time ever, through an innovative Pay Watch Facebook app.

And the pages of Pay Watch don’t just inform us. They couple information with a variety of action steps we can take to advance a meaningful CEO pay reform agenda.

High on that agenda: the campaign to protect the Dodd-Frank financial reform law provision enacted last summer that requires all major companies to disclose the pay gap between their CEOs and their workers. Corporate America is currently trying to gut this new disclosure mandate, by sabotaging the regulations supposed to enforce it.

Disclosure remains the first step to meaningful CEO pay reform. This week’s edition of Too Much, our IPS weekly email newsletter on excess and inequality, spotlights a brand-new reform proposal — from Harvard economist Richard Freeman — that builds on this disclosure. Not on the mailing list for Too Much? You can sign up here to subscribe.

Wisconsin Union Struggle Is All Too Familiar for Excluded Workers

March 10, 2011 ·

In the midst of an economic crisis that has shaken the foundations of our society, creating massive unemployment that's unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers are battling proposals to cut more jobs; restrict or destroy collective bargaining rights; revoke "prevailing wage" laws; terminate union negotiated contracts; remove required binding arbitration; and prevent unions from collecting dues from their members.

These attacks come with a sharp, racist edge — targeting a sector where more than 1 in 5 black workers are employed.

The Excluded Workers Congress represents nine sectors of the U.S. workforce, including domestic workers, farm workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, day laborers, guestworkers, workers from Southern right-to-work states, workfare workers, and formerly incarcerated workers. We know very well what life is like without a union contract.

In some southern states like Virginia and North Carolina, collective bargaining is already banned outright for public sector workers. Farm work, one of the most dangerous occupations in the US in terms of workplace injuries and exposure to toxins, is legally excluded from OSHA, among other protections. Household workers, like nannies, housekeepers, and even caregivers for the elderly and disabled, are similarly excluded from the right to organize, overtime protections, and OSHA. Guestworkers, who come to the United States on work visas, not only lack the right to organize for workplace protections, but face deportation and retaliation if they speak out against violations and abuse. And workfare employees aren't even considered workers in many places.

The right to organize and bargain collectively is the basic human right to pool our individual power into a unified voice that's strong enough to stand up against unfair or abusive workplaces and to ensure fair pay and benefits. When workers are denied their most basic right to bargain collectively, rampant abuse and exploitation are inevitable.

We know this because it's already our reality.

The struggle of Wisconsin's workers has emerged as an international emblem, though worker rights are under attack across the nation. Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and New Jersey, among other state governments, are using a trumped-up argument about supposed "budget shortfalls" to justify stripping workers of their human right to organize and bargain collectively. Closing tax loopholes, ensuring that the wealthy pay their fair share, and ending Wall Street bailouts are clear alternatives, but the wealthy aren't being asked to sacrifice.

Teachers, firefighters, bus drivers, and millions more are being put on trial for the crimes of investment bankers, hedge-fund managers and the corporate executives who have actually made money on the backs of the laid off, foreclosed on workers.

Scapegoating workers for the budget shortfalls that Wall Street caused diverts attention from solutions that would require sacrifice from wealthy individuals and corporations. We reject the argument that good jobs paying a living wage — those with pensions and benefits, are unfair since some workers don't have them. Rather than race to the bottom, where no one has rights, why shouldn't we work together to ensure that everyone does? As excluded workers, we stand in solidarity with public sector unions under attack in Wisconsin and across the country, even while we are still fighting for the most basic workplace protections and recognition for ourselves.

Tiffany Williams is the advocacy director of Break the Chain Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies, and an advisor to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Erica Smiley is the southern regional organizer for Jobs with Justice. More information on the Excluded Workers Congress is on our website www.excludedworkers.org.

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