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AFL-CIO’s ‘Fighting For a Better Life’


Shows Successful Struggles of 2015

During 2015, working people launched a renewed fight for wage raises and fairer working conditions. Union members used time tested tools like collective bargaining, and nonunion workers organized to form bargaining units, often for the first time in their industries and even in states traditionally hostile to organized labor. Employees demanded improvements in the workplace.  These actions and others were listed in a report just released by the AFL-CIO entitled “Fighting for a Better Life: How Working People Across America Are Organizing to Raise Wages and Improve Work.” The report documents a year of action that led to significant victories for working people.

This push began on January 7, 2015, when 300 unionists, faith leaders, organizers, national advocates, and local economic justice activists attended the National Summit on Wages in the nation’s capital. Rank-and-file workers shared stories of their struggles to improve their workplaces.

Representatives from the Economic Policy Institute detailed for the audience the 30 years of deliberate choices and policy decisions that left wages stagnant for the vast majority of the middle class, while providing the biggest transfer of wealth to the upper one percent. At the summit, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) urged activists to elect leaders who would “unrig the system.” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka ended the summit with a call for union activists and their allies to hold elected leaders responsible for the promises they made while campaigning.

To meet that challenge, labor groups first educated themselves by holding Common Sense Economics workshops throughout the country. In these workshops, they discussed economic policy and strategy to restore collective bargaining rights, fight for paid sick leave and fair scheduling practices that give employees adequate notice of changes to their work schedules. They also learned the importance of fighting for new penalties against employers who engage in wage theft and gender discrimination.

Coming out of those workshops, workers led campaigns like Our Walmart and the Fight for $15. They held strikes in the fast food industry and spurred legislation in major metropolitan areas. For example, Los Angeles, the second largest city in the U.S., passed a $15 minimum wage bill. Fifteen municipalities enacted similar legislation. Living wage measures passed in Washington State and Dallas. Sixteen other states introduced minimum wage bills, with New York and Rhode Island passing laws raising the minimum wage. California, Hawaii and Tennessee passed prevailing wage laws.

Paid sick day measures won approval in North Dakota, Oregon, and in Montgomery County, MD. Fair scheduling bills have been introduced in California, New York, and Minnesota. Those bills were carried over to the 2016 legislatures in those states.

Those are just the highlights of the victories that grew out of last year’s resolve. The challenge continues with fights to raise wages, pass fair scheduling laws, and make it easier for workers to win collective bargaining and other union protections throughout the nation.

As Trumka summed up in the report, “One year ago we made clear that raising wages for all working people was our number one priority. In 2015 we came together in collective voice and action and made significant progress.”

The fight for wage equality and better working conditions continues in 2016, he vowed.


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