I study atmospheric chemistry at Columbia University, where I research air pollution and offer teaching support for classes that introduce students to the science and societal impacts of climate change. Despite attending and working for a world-class university, my colleagues and I struggle to make ends meet in the most expensive city in the world.
I got involved in organizing a union with my fellow graduate student workers at Columbia because of our precarious benefits and lack of real workplace rights. In 2016, we overturned a decision made during President George W. Bush’s era by the NLRB and restored our collective bargaining rights. Since the NLRB ruling in the Columbia case, more than 20,000 graduate student workers across the country have been eligible to vote in union representation elections—and we have voted “yes” overwhelmingly.
As employees who are responsible for a growing portion of the teaching and research at our universities, graduate student workers have formed unions in record numbers to address chronic problems with sexual harassment and discrimination, unstable health benefits, and the precarious rights of international student workers, among other issues. These are some of the fundamental rights we know unions have addressed for decades across all sectors.
But in a desperate move to stifle the unprecedented momentum of the graduate student worker union movement, the NLRB has proposed a new rule that could take away the collective bargaining rights of research and teaching assistants at our universities.
We are all in this together as working people, and we must fight back against the attack on our rights.
Research and Teaching Assistant, Columbia University
Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW
Hey all! I wanted to share that the United Steelworkers (USW) has a new podcast, Solidarity Works, and our first episode went live this morning! I sat down with our Rapid Response director, Amber Miller, to chat about the three major bills our activists are pushing for in Washington, D.C., and what lies ahead for them in 2020.
You can find us on pretty much any streaming service (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, etc.), or at usw.to/podcast. We’ll be posting episodes monthly until March when I’ll switch to two episodes per month.
Spread the word if you dig it!
We are excited to announce that registration for the 2020 AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference is officially open.
With a critical election right around the corner, the theme for the 2020 MLK Conference is “Give Us the Ballot,” drawn from Dr. King’s 1957 voting rights speech delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom gathering in Washington, D.C.
Decades after Dr. King advocated tirelessly for full access to the voting booth, we are still facing voter disenfranchisement at alarming levels. In the labor movement, we know that ensuring full voting access and a fair count of every ballot is critical.
When it comes to the important work of fighting for free and fair elections, we can’t wait. Join us at our upcoming conference boot camp to roll up your sleeves and get to work!
See you in January!
After many rounds of negotiations, and tireless support from allies like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sens. Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden, I’m writing to tell you that the AFL-CIO is endorsing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
We knew this deal was too important to get wrong or be rushed. In the face of pressure, working people persevered, winning truly enforceable labor standards and an elimination of special carve outs for big corporations. Also, the USMCA now closes loopholes designed to make it harder to prosecute labor violations.
The USMCA is far from perfect. It alone is not a solution for outsourcing, inequality or climate change. Successfully tackling these issues requires a full-court press of economic policies that empower workers, including the repeal of tax cuts which reward companies for shipping our jobs overseas.
But there is no denying that the trade rules in America will now be fairer because of our hard work and perseverance. More than 16,000 of you signed our petition to tell Congress that we deserve a trade deal that works for all of us.
This is your victory.
Did you know that the U.S. Postal Service is the most popular federal agency? USPS provides critical services to the American public, but now it’s at risk. If we don’t all act soon, USPS could be privatized.Tell the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors: Don’t privatize the Postal Service!
Last year, the White House announced proposals to privatize the Postal Service. Postmaster General Megan Brennan is leaving the agency in January, and it’s likely that the White House’s next pick will have privatization high up on the agenda. We can’t let that happen—it’s time to mobilize support to protect the U.S. Postal Service.
Now, more than ever, the U.S. Postal Service is at risk of privatization. The people expect—and deserve—a postmaster general who will uphold the USPS’s critical importance as a public service.
Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce
Senate Resolution 376 – Opponent Testimony
October 23rd, 2019
President, Ohio AFL-CIO
Chairman McColley, Vice chair Thompson, Ranking Minority Member Antonio and members of the Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony today. My name is Tim Burga and I am the President of the Ohio American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (Ohio AFL-CIO). The State Federation represents over 500,000 organized workers in nearly all sectors of employment. From making steel to baking bread, building our schools and teaching our children, keeping us safe and delivering the goods Ohio’s union members are doing the work that connects us all. I write to you today on behalf of our union members and Ohio’s working families in opposition to Senate Resolution 376, which urges Congress to adopt the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, also known as USMCA or NAFTA 2.0.
NAFTA and subsequent trade deals have been a disaster for the U.S. manufacturing sector and as a result our local communities. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Ohio has lost approximately 106,000 blue-collar jobs because of NAFTA, as manufacturing plants closed and relocated to Mexico. That’s because NAFTA was written to enrich corporations, providing a massive windfall for big-business at the expense of working people and the communities where we live and raise our families. To make matters worse, it soon became the template for other anti-worker trade agreements, perpetuating a vicious cycle of multinational corporations outsourcing jobs to low-wage, low-standard regions and destroying the livelihoods of working families in the process.
After a quarter-century of this race to the bottom, working people are fed up and demand a better way forward. We are hungry for a North American trade deal that lifts wages and improves livelihoods. But make no mistake: The deal the Trump administration is pushing on Congress falls short of what we need and deserve.
President Obhof claimed in his testimony that this trade agreement will be different because the USMCA’s “enforceable labor standards will enable the American worker to compete on a level playing field, while improving wages and labor standards among our trading partners.” One of the standards that proponents hold up as an example is a requirement that at least 40 percent of vehicles made in Mexico must be assembled by workers “making at least $16 an hour.” As written, the deal allows any party to block an enforcement proceeding by refusing to appoint
arbitrators to a dispute panel. And the $16 wage rule is an average, not a floor, so it includes engineers and other highly paid white-collar workers. This flaw would allow Mexican auto factories to continue to pay the vast majority of workers poverty wages.
To win working peoples support, the treaty needs robust enforcement mechanisms not currently in the plan. Without the necessary enforcement provisions, the American worker will have little faith that Mexico can or will keep up its end of the bargain to establish a Department of Labor, implement and enforce long-overdue labor reforms, allow workers to form real unions and negotiate better wages and working conditions. While the Mexican government has taken steps in the right direction, this proposal has no way of ensuring that they continue following through on their promises.
This deal needs to mandate transparent reporting and strong, guaranteed consequences for violations. With working people in Mexico currently facing wages as low as $2 per hour or less, we cannot accept a deal that doesn’t have the enforcement tools to raise standards for working people in all three NAFTA countries.
Under the proposed deal, any party can unilaterally shut down a settlement panel investigating trade violations. That’s akin to giving an accused thief the right to shut down his own trial. Negotiators had gotten rid of this loophole in recent trade agreements, so to turn back now would be another unacceptable concession to multinational corporations. If a trade deal cannot be enforced, then it’s not a deal at all.
Finally, the administration needs to rein in pharmaceutical corporations’ monopoly over prescription drug prices. The new USCMA would lock in exorbitant prices for life-saving medicines for a decade — a massive giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry and a blow to working families and consumers. These are the most egregious issues, but there is a range of other problems with the current proposal that also needs addressed, from allowing corporations to hide the origins of our food to leaving high-wage jobs vulnerable to continued outsourcing.
While I am glad that this much needed debate is happening right here in Ohio, Senate Resolution 376 falls short of what Ohioans need from our state Senate on this matter. This body should be urging Congress to correct the issues outlined above before bringing the USMCA up for a vote. For too long, Ohioans have suffered from lost jobs and lower wages because of so-called “free trade” deals that place the interests of multinational corporations over our workers. The USMCA as written is just more of the same failed policies. I urge this committee to vote NO on Senate Resolution 376 and instead ask Congress to change the USMCA so that it works for working families.
Thank you for taking the time to read my written testimony opposing SR 376. Please do not hesitate reaching out to my office with any questions.