ON THURSDAY, members of Congress, led by Senator Patty Murray (Democrat-Washington) and Representative Bobby Scott (Democrat-Virginia), proposed the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act.
The legislation is designed to strengthen protections for working people who join together to make positive change at work and make sure corporations that violate working people’s rights face real consequences. In recent decades, workers’ wages have been stagnant while too many employers take advantage of weak worker protection laws to slow down or stop working people from joining together to improve their lives. This legislation is aimed at reversing that trend.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka described the legislation, he said: ‘The WAGE Act puts corporations who abuse working people on notice that there will be real penalties for lawbreaking. ‘Penalties like triple back pay, strong civil penalties and preliminary reinstatement.’
Murray said: ‘Too often, as workers are underpaid, overworked and treated unfairly on the job, some companies are doing everything they can to prevent them from having a voice in the workplace. The WAGE Act would strengthen protections for all workers and it would finally crack down on employers who break the law when workers exercise their basic right to collective action.’
The WAGE Act would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to strengthen protections for working people who organise and promote change through collective action. It would increase protections for all workers, union or not, and will help open up the pathways to equal pay, increased safety and higher wages.
Specifically the law would increase workers’ rights and protections by:
• Tripling the back pay that employers must pay to workers who are fired or retaliated against by their employers, regardless of immigration status.
• Providing workers with a private right of action to bring a lawsuit to recover monetary damages and attorneys’ fees in federal district court, just as they can under civil rights laws.
• Providing for federal court injunctions to immediately return fired workers to their jobs.
• Ensuring employers will be jointly responsible for violations affecting workers supplied by another employer.
Furthermore, the WAGE Act would put an end to the perverse incentives for employers to interfere with workers’ rights by:
• Establishing civil penalties up to $50,000 for employers that commit unfair labour practices and doubled penalties for repeat violations. This would bring the NLRA in line with other workplace laws.
• Giving the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) authority to impose penalties on officers and directors of employer violators.
• Allowing the Board to issue a bargaining order upon finding that an employer prevented a free and fair election, provided that a majority of employees signed authorisation cards within the previous 12 months.
• Setting a 30-day time limit for employers to challenge an NLRB decision, after which the NLRB decision becomes final and binding unless a court directs otherwise.
The NLRB could then go directly to district court to enforce its orders. In honour of Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on Wednesday and runs until October 15, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement, he said: ‘Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the countless contributions of Latinos to our nation. It is also a time to evaluate the challenges that they face.
‘Today, as America’s Latino community grows stronger, so do attacks from extremist politicians who want to divide us and are obsessed with using hardworking Latinos as scapegoats. But they could not be more mistaken. Latino working families are stronger than ever. The Latino community has been at the forefront in raising wages and winning workers’ rights through their collective voice.It is this same strength and determination that throughout history has built America and that will continue to move our country forward.This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month is unique.’
Throughout this month, the AFL-CIO and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) are profiling past and present leaders in the intersecting movements to protect and expand the rights of Hispanics, Latinos and working families.
The first profile is on Henry Garrido, executive director of AFSCME District Council 37. Meanwhile, New York City bus operators signed a monumental legal agreement last week, clarifying the intent of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial ‘Vision Zero’ programme. The programme had previously led to the arrest of six members of the Transport Workers (TWU) union, all bus operators with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
John Samuelsen, TWU executive vice president and president of TWU Local 100, signed the agreement with New York City’s corporation counsel. The agreement will protect bus operators from being charged criminally in pedestrian crosswalk accidents that are just accidents—not caused by driver recklessness. It settles a federal lawsuit that Local 100 filed against the city in April, challenging the legality of the ‘Right of Way’ clause in the Vision Zero bill.
Samuelsen said: ‘This is a huge victory. Under this well-intentioned, but poorly crafted, law, bus operators were arrested and handcuffed like common criminals. This settlement safeguards all bus operators and other transit workers who drive MTA motor vehicles from arrest if involved in an accident lacking recklessness.’
Samuelsen added: ‘The New York City labour movement, through the Central Labor Council, came together and made it very clear to our elected officials that workers needed protections under the right of way law. In addition to the settlement, the city has affirmed that it’s instructing police officers who investigate crosswalk accidents to consider the very real possibility that a bus operator’s view was blocked by the side-view mirror, taking into account the well-documented blind spots on MTA buses. This also marks huge progress toward a fairer, safer set of laws for transit riders and operators in New York City.’
Elsewhere, The Kelso Education Association and the Kelso School District in Washington state could not come to an agreement after all-day negotiations on Wednesday, continuing the teachers’ strike.
The district filed for an injunction on Wednesday morning hoping that a judge will send the teachers back into the classroom.
Members of the teachers’ union voted to strike on Monday night. The district on Wednesday said classes would be cancelled indefinitely until further notice. Parents and students joined teachers on the picket lines on Wednesday morning. The union told the district there would be no access to the schools until the strike is over, according to a letter to parents from Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich.
Kelso teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.
The union said one of the biggest sticking points in negotiations has been extra paid days. Teachers asked for six extra paid days for next year and the district has offered four. Union spokesperson Sandy DeBruler said: ‘We’re asking for those two extra days for work loads for meetings. They have the money to do it.’
According to the Kelso School District, school sports will continue, despite the strike.Kids will make up missed class days at the end of the year.