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Fifty-five years ago, in a speech to the convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out with characteristic moral clarity the essential role of unions in American life. “The labor movement,” he explained, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress … [When] the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream.”

This Labor Day, America’s working families are facing unprecedented challenges.

Thousands of working people across the country joined together on June 17 in a national day of action. We called for the Senate to pass the HEROES Act and for Congress to take actions to address structural racism. The HEROES Act is grounded in America’s Five Economic Essentials that are desperately needed to keep working people safe and financially secure. This day of action was just the beginning. Today and every day that follows, working people will mobilize like never before to make the HEROES Act the law of the land and rid our institutions of systemic racism.

Last week, the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on H.R. 3441, the so-called Save Local Business Act -- a bill that has almost nothing to do with saving small and local businesses. According to its sponsors, the legislation was introduced to overturn the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) 2015 decision in Browning Ferris Industries.

Yahaira Burgos was fearing the worst when her husband, Juan Vivares, reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in lower Manhattan in March. Vivares, who fled Colombia and entered the U.S. illegally in 2011, had recently been given a deportation order. Rather than hide, he showed up at the ICE office with Burgos and his lawyer to continue to press his case for asylum.  

“What we know from RNRN’s work in previous disaster-stricken areas, including hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as post-earthquake Haiti and super typhoon Haiyan, is that after an initial surge of volunteers, many people have to return to work. That is true in this case, as well as some volunteers being pulled to Florida, to address the impending hurricane Irma,” said RNRN director Bonnie Castillo.

Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, I learned at an early age the power of unions to dramatically improve the opportunities of black families in America.

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The tension between work and time off has always been a concern of the American labor movement. Work may be one of our core values, but it has a purpose, which is to allow us to live good lives, provide for ourselves and our families and, yes, to earn some time off to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Today, work and time off are badly out of balance, and Labor Day is a case in point.

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Working people are taking fewer vacation days and working more. That's the top finding in a new national survey, conducted by polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the AFL-CIO in collaboration with the Economic Policy Institute and the Labor Project for Working Families. In the survey, the majority of America's working people credit labor unions for many of the benefits they receive.

As Hurricane Harvey and its remnants bring unprecedented flooding and damage to a huge portion of Texas, working people in the state are going above and beyond their duties to help one another.

In January, I was invited to serve on President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council, along with my boss, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. At the time, I was deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO (the largest federation of trade unions in America) and a spokesperson for the organization on trade, manufacturing, and economic policy. President Trumka and I agreed to serve because we believed — and still do — that working people should have a voice in crucial government decisions affecting their jobs, their lives, and their families.