Labor Roundup | March 2019

Top congressional Democrats plus Bernie Sanders last month moved to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. With support from more than 180 House Democrats, the bill is expected to pass the new Democratic-run House. It’s another matter in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “The minimum wage is no longer a living wage.”

The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.

The Raise The Wage legislation would increase the current federal minimum (which many states and cities have already done) by $1 an hour annually through 2024. It would also index the minimum wage to rises in the median wage after that. However, the bill has no Cost of Living provision, so by the time the $15/hour would become reality, inflation could erode the wage’s value.

Raising the minimum wage could help about 40 million workers directly, the lawmakers said. It was one of the key planks touted by many of the progressives elected in the midterm elections.

After years of battling GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and his union-busting agenda, Illinois Democrats and union allies see hope for progressive legislation, starting with a job-creating capital spending bill supported by Gov. JB Pritzker.

“Having a governor who is pro-labor and believes in working men and women in Illinois is paramount,” said State Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Red Bud.

The legislature is working in a unified government with a Democratic governor and supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

Rauner left Illinois without a budget for three years and the state government cut services and suspended programs, as the Right-winger tried unsuccessfully to persuade lawmakers to destroy the state’s public employee unions and make Illinois a Right-To-Work state.

A chronically underfunded pension system also needs addressing.

“What it’s going to take is to get both sides to sit down,” Costello said. “It’s got to be the General Assembly, it has to be labor – everybody involved – to sit down at a table and negotiate this system out.”

AFL-CIO leader urging Congress to “get serious about infrastructure.” U.S. roads, railroads, bridges, airports, subways, seaports and other infrastructure are so dilapidated that lawmakers must act to the tune of about $100 billion a year in federal funds, according to Larry Willis, head of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department.

The degradation, Willis adds, not only costs construction workers jobs they would otherwise hold, but costs the country – its economy and its other businesses – money.

Both Republican President Donald Trump and lawmakers from both parties claim to support the idea, but improving infrastructure will cost more than the annual gas tax revenue feds take in. The gas tax hasn’t changed for 25 years, and unions, led by the Laborers, advocate increasing it to pay for the nation’s infrastructure needs.

Citing non-partisan studies by the American Society of Civil Engineers and others, Willis puts the cost of just fixing the backlog of decaying roads, bridges, passenger and commuter railroads and mass transit at $964 billion. That’s not counting airports and seaports.

“For the millions of working Americans who build, maintain, operate and travel on our nation’s infrastructure network, this is an idea whose time has come,” Willis said. “As one of America’s largest expenditures, it makes perfect sense that Congress would task its members with solving our ever-growing infrastructure problem.”

The Steelworkers and the Electrical Workers have launched a joint organizing drive at Tesla, which operates a green jobs solar-panel plant in Buffalo, N.Y.

The campaign, which started this winter, aims to organize some 400 production and maintenance workers at the plant, a former USW-represented Republic Steel factory.
“The only way we can ensure we have a voice in the company and have equal rights is with a union contract,” internal organizing committeeman Aaron Nicpon told the Steelworkers.
USW District 4 Director John Shinn said workers’ concerns can be addressed while maintaining Tesla’s long-term viability. “We’re committed to the continuing success of this facility,” he said, “and to making sure that Tesla’s highly skilled work force has good, family-sustaining jobs.”

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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