Rants & Raves for the Week of April 25th

* California's largest corporations skirt taxes * Carl's Jr. CEO threatens to move California operations to Texas * Massachusetts House goes after health care collective bargaining rights * Koch brothers tell employees how to vote * Assembly and Senate vote against foreclosure prevention bills *

* Tulare county seniors protest budget cuts as Assemblymember Conway's office * New report finds UI boosts economy and saves jobs * NLRB seeks to sue states that interfer with workers' rights * Labor Secretary Solis inducts Memphis sanitation workers into Labor Hall of Fame * Strong majority of Californians oppose cuts-only budget * Study finds Wal-Mart could pay a living wage without increasing prices *

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From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend

by Rebecca Greenberg

Most of us are familiar with the popular bumper sticker, “Labor Unions – The folks who brought you the weekend.” And yes, unions did play a pivotal role in the creation of the five-day work week. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the last 170 years, labor unions have done a whole lot more than just establishing the weekend. We’ve effectively served as the first line of defense against the corporations and politicians that seek to exploit working class families. We’ve fought tirelessly for better treatment for workers from all walks of life. And we’ve won some major victories along the way on issues that affect working families every day.

Most of Labor’s major accomplishments have become so engrained in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine a time without them. In honor of May Day, which is celebrated around the world as International Workers’ Day, here are just a few of the hard-fought victories of the labor movement that we often take for granted…

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Dying at Work in California

, a 30-year old solar panel installer, stepped backwards off the roof of a multi-story apartment building in San Pablo, California. He was not wearing personal fall protection equipment and fell to his death.

In October 2010, two Northern California healthcare workers died in separate incidents of workplace violence. Cynthia Barraca Palomata, a registered nurse, was attacked and killed by an inmate at the Martinez county jail. The same month, Donna Gross, a psychiatric technician, was strangled and killed by an inmate at Napa State Hospital.

Last month, a Stockton judge accepted a plea deal allowing criminal defendants to escape any jail time in the 2008 heat death of pregnant 17-year old farm worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. Maria Isabel died of a heat-related illness after working nine straight hours, without access to water or shade, in the boiling heat of the grape fields of Stockton.

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4,340 Killed on the Job; Job Safety Laws ‘Must Be Strengthened’

Forty years after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), “there is much more work to be done….The job safety laws must be strengthened,” finds the 2011 AFL-CIO annual job safety report “Death on the Job,” released this week to commemorate Workers Memorial Day. (Click here for the full report.)

In 2009 (the latest figures available), 4,340 workers were killed on the job—an average of 12 workers a day—and an estimated 50,000 died of occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported in private and state and local workplaces. But the report says the 4.1 million “understates the problem,” and the actual number is more likely 8 million to 12 million.

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Will Public Workers and Immigrants March Together on May Day?

guest column

One sign carried in almost every May Day march of the last few years says it all: “We are Workers, not Criminals!”  Often it was held in the calloused hands of men and women who looked as though they'd just come from work in a factory, cleaning an office building, or picking grapes.  The sign stated an obvious truth.  Millions of people have come to the United States to work, not to break its laws.  Some have come with visas, and others without them.  But they are all contributors to the society they've found here.

This year, those marchers will be joined by the public workers we saw in the state capitol in Madison, whose message was the same – we all work, we all contribute to our communities, and we all have the right to a job, a union, and a decent life.

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Visalia Seniors Fired Up Over California Budget

For years, seniors in Tulare County have been among the hardest hit by state budget cuts. On Tuesday in Visalia, we fought back. Dozens of local seniors rallied in front of Assemblywoman Connie Conway’s office to put a face on the the deep cuts that have affected the community, and demanding respect for seniors and “no more cuts” to the vital services that help seniors stay healthy and independent.

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Study: Unemployment Benefits Critical to California’s Economic Recovery

In 2009, unemployment insurance helped 1.5 million Californians and their families continue to pay their rent or mortgage, keep food on the table and pay for other necessities like utilities and medications. Furthermore, unemployment insurance kept nearly 500,000 Californians out of poverty in 2009.

Not only does unemployment insurance help the families that receive benefits, but the program also boosts the entire economy, as reported in a recent policy brief I co-authored with economist Sylvia Allegretto. When unemployed workers and their families spend their unemployment insurance checks at the grocery store or local health clinic, many of those dollars continue to circulate through the local economy and help to keep grocery store clerks, health care providers and other workers employed. Our analysis found that the unemployment insurance program supported 161,000 jobs in California in 2009, mostly in the private sector. Without those jobs, California’s unemployment rate would have been almost one percentage point higher.

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Could Walmart Pay a Living Wage?

Walmart is well known for both its low prices and its low wages. The drive to keep prices is down is offered as explanation for the company’s substandard wages and benefits. New findings show that Walmart can keep those prices low and pay its workers a living wage.

My colleagues and I at UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research & Education released a study earlier this week, “Living Wage Policies and Big-Box Retail: How a Higher Wage Standard Would Impact Walmart Workers and Shoppers,” which found that Walmart could help its largely low-income employees by increasing the minimum wage it pays to $12. This would significantly improve incomes for many Walmart workers, with only the slightest impact on customers.

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Bay Area Religious Leaders Stand With Hotel Workers During Passover & Holy Week

During this holy season of Passover for the Jewish community, and Maundy Thursday for Christians, the Bay Area community sent a powerful message to the Hyatt corporation on Thursday, holding them accountable for stalling on signing a contract with its workers in San Francisco, workplace injuries, and denying its non-union workers a fair process for them to choose a union throughout the Bay Area.

In San Francisco, with the sound of Buddhist bells and the dramatic sight of workers and clergy carrying heavy mattresses in lieu of a cross – symbolizing carrying each other’s burdens – over 100 workers, community leaders, and clergy from different religious traditions walked in silence through downtown San Francisco in support of local hotel workers fighting for a fair contract and affordable health care.

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No Unions, No Middle Class

with “For Sale” signs up, thousands of workers standing in line to apply for a handful of jobs at McDonalds, those who lost jobs realizing there are none to be found. I see it in my family, among my friends, throughout my neighborhood. The working people of California who once enjoyed a degree of economic security have seen it washed away in a tidal wave of hard times.

This is not just anecdotal. The recent census numbers show the highest level of inequality on record.  That means not only are working families suffering, but they are suffering alone. The wealthy, the banks, and the CEOs are all making record profits, while jobs disappear and aid to the poorest elderly and disabled is slashed. 

Is this the world we want to live in?

If you are saying, “There’s gotta be a better way,” you are right. There is one. It’s called the Labor Movement. A new study by the Center for American Progress confirms the cornerstone of our philosophy: unions are essential to creating a fair economy and rebuilding the middle class.

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