While most Americans view Labor Day as the last long weekend of the summer and another day off work, the history behind the holiday was actually a result of one of the most intense and violent struggles for workers’ rights.
In 1894, during a time of severe economic and social unrest, thousands of workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike to protest the way George Pullman, founder and president of the Pullman Palace Car Company, treated his workers. Pullman was one of the wealthiest men in the Chicago area, and subjected his workers to high rents and low pay in the company town he had built for them near the factory. His actions forced many of his workers into debt and poverty. When his workers rebelled and went on strike with the support of Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union, Pullman gained the support of President Grover Cleveland, who ordered federal troops to intervene—leading to a bloody confrontation and the deaths of more than 30 Pullman workers. Soon afterwards and amid growing criticism to the brutal response to the striking workers, President Cleveland established Labor Day as a national holiday in an effort to appease organized labor.
One hundred and twenty-one years after the Pullman Strike, our country is still grappling with economic and social unrest as income inequality persists and the right of workers to stick together for better workplace conditions continues to be challenged. Too many American workers are struggling to survive in low-wage, part-time jobs that hamper their ability to move up the economic ladder. And the sheer desperation of many Americans who simply want to work has enabled many companies to cut wages and hours, misclassify workers as independent contractors or hire temporary workers to avoid providing benefits, subject their workers to erratic scheduling practices, and punish those who speak out for better workplace conditions.
Many of these abuses are a direct result of the smaller number of unionized workers. Fortunately, America’s workers are realizing that the key to economic prosperity for working people is power in numbers. Across the country, thousands of low-wage, part-time workers are leading the fight to narrow the wealth gap by sticking together for better wages and benefits. Like the Pullman workers, they are standing up to their wealthy employers through strikes and protests in the face of threats and intimidation. Some have even lost their jobs in their fight for a voice on the job. Despite these setbacks, they continue to call attention to our country’s increasing reliance on low-wage, part-time jobs and its devastating effect on American workers.
This Labor Day, let’s take time to remember those before us who stood up to powerful corporate and political interests to fight for a better life and a more equitable society. Let’s honor them by focusing on the power we all have to define a brighter path forward for the millions of workers and their families who deserve and have earned a better life.
At the UFCW, we believe that if you do the work, you deserve to be compensated.
Unfortunately, not everyone has a voice on the job, and every day, millions of Americans work
more than 40 hours per week with no pay. That’s because the salary threshold for overtime pay
has been raised only once since 1975.
The current salary threshold is $23,660, which is lower than the federal poverty level for a family
of four. This outdated system has given corporations a free pass to schedule low-level
supervisors and managers for more than 40 hours per week without providing them with any
But that’s about to change because the U.S. Department of Labor is raising the bar on employers
by setting a higher salary threshold for overtime protection so that more salaried workers will be
eligible to earn overtime when they work more than 40 hours in one week. The proposed
regulation will increase the overtime salary threshold to $50,440 per year by 2016, and extend
overtime protection to almost 5 million additional workers, including those in the food and non-
food retail sector.
The new overtime regulation will benefit workers everywhere and make it harder for employers
to misclassify workers as supervisors. It is the most significant step to address our country’s low-wage,
part-time economy, and will improve the standard of living for millions of Americans.
All workers deserve to be compensated for their hard work—so please take a few minutes to
show your support by visiting: www.ufcwaction.org/overtime.
Almost all UFCW members are guaranteed overtime pay – 1.5 times their hourly wage – when they work more than 40 hours per week. This is a good thing. People should be paid fairly for all the hours they work and when someone is forced to work extra hours, they deserve extra pay.
Unfortunately, federal overtime laws have become outdated and millions of Americans are being denied the benefit of earning a time-and-a-half wage when they work long hours. Currently, a salaried supervisor making as little as $24,000 per year is exempt from earning overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in one week.
It is likely that UFCW 538 members have witnessed firsthand the negative effects of having such a low overtime salary threshold. Stores we work in will “promote” people into supervisor positions and then force them to work 50 or 60 hour weeks without any extra pay.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently proposed a new rule to help stop this unfair practice. They are hoping to raise the bar on employers by increasing the salary threshold to $50,440 per year. If implemented into law, this rule will extend the right to earn overtime to more than 5 million workers.
By preventing businesses from taking advantage of low salary workers, hard working men and women across the country will see immediate benefits. Salaried workers who used to work 50 or 60 hour weeks will now be paid fairly for their extra work or be given more time to spend with their families. Other workers will see a salary bump so that they will exceed the new threshold and be once again exempt from earning overtime. Most importantly, providing more supervisory positions with overtime pay will make more hours available to people who want and need to work extra hours.
This new overtime rule is not official yet. The Department of Labor is asking people to comment on it to gauge whether or not it has sufficient support. Please take a few minutes to show your support for this rule by visiting:
Thank you in advance for signing the petition and putting this rule on the path to implementation. Helping to ensure more workers are paid fairly for the hours they work is good for all of us.
As the Joint Finance Committee meets this week to finalize the budget, there could be many harmful amendments to working families slipped into the budget at the last minute. In an ongoing affront to democracy, Republicans’ pattern has been to jam controversial issues that hurt working families into the budget during late-night sessions without proper democratic debate or notice to the public.
One possible amendment that could get slipped into the budget is an attempt to weaken Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This could also come in the form of a separate bill.
Federalizing Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act goes against Wisconsin values of fairness, justice and family support. Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave is a lifeline relied upon each year by countless workers going through the difficult task of caring for themselves or for a family member facing a medical emergency. Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act allows a worker to take appropriate leave after the birth of a child or when an illness falls upon themselves or a family member.
Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act is stronger than existing federal law, but Republicans have been trying to weaken Wisconsin’s family leave and deny many workers the ability to take leave to care for themselves or family members.
Here are some of the ways that Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act is better than federal law:
Better eligibility requirements: Under Wisconsin FMLA you are eligible for leave after 1,000 hours of work which includes paid time off. The Federal law requires 1,250 of work excluding paid time off. This is a huge loss for part-time workers.
The right to substitute accrued time: Under Wisconsin FMLA, the employee chooses whether to substitute accrued paid leave of any type for unpaid leave under the Wisconsin FMLA. With the Federal FMLA, the employer can force the employee to substitute paid vacation, personal leave and compensatory time for any type of federal FMLA leave.
More protections for workers at small work locations: Under Wisconsin FMLA you are eligible for coverage if your employer employs 50 or more people in the state. Under Federal FMLA the employer has to have 50 employees within a 75 mile radius. This will exclude many employees at smaller chain establishments as well as employees in rural areas.
The right to take intermittent leave: Under Wisconsin FMLA, you can take intermittent leave for all family and medical emergencies in increments equal to the shortest increment permitted by the employer for any other non-emergency leave. Federal FMLA permits intermittent leave ONLY when necessary for serious health conditions, not for birth or adoption of a child.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, we are reminded that we should be strengthening paid leave to build strong families in Wisconsin. Rolling back Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave protections erode a worker’s freedom to care for a loved one or themselves during a time of need. Instead of further weakening workers’ rights and crumbling our familial support systems, the Wisconsin Legislature should focus on boosting our sluggish economy by creating jobs, raising wages for workers and investing in our outdated infrastructure.
Wisconsin families need to keep their voices strong as the budget hits its final deliberations and stay vigilant of any last minute sneak attacks against worker rights, wages and issues important to working families.
Phil Neuenfeldt, President
Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer
Reports are coming in that the U.S. House could vote on Fast Track trade legislation as early as Friday. Fast Tracking bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership would outsource Wisconsin jobs and drive down wages in a race-to-the-bottom. Wisconsin is still bleeding jobs from NAFTA; we don’t need another NAFTA-style trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be rushed through Congress in an up or down vote with limited debate.
URGENT: Now is the time for the voices of working families to be heard. Make a quick call to your Representative today, urging them to vote NO on Fast Track trade legislation.
We are gaining momentum with union members and working people across Wisconsin and the United States, making it clear that we need to stop Fast Track. Unfortunately a handful of House Democrats, including Congressman Ron Kind from Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, are joining with Republicans to support Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.
The vote in the House is going to be close and we need all hands on deck to stop Fast Track.
Call your Representative today to see where they stand on Fast Track. Stopping Fast Track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is crucial to protecting good jobs and strong communities for workers across the globe.Wisconsin workers have already lost too many jobs to bad trade deals. Fast Track trade authority of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would ship good jobs away from our communities, drive down our wages and give corporations even more control over our lives.
We need fair and balanced trade deals that protect the rights of workers, our environment and food and drug safety standards. There is a way to make fair trade rules that put people and the planet before profits, but Fast Track isn’t it.
Phil Neuenfeldt, President
Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer
The “Fast Track” trade bill in Congress
will send jobs overseas and give more
power to giant corporations. It continues
the same failed trade policies that leave
working people behind.
We have to stop this. Join union
members and our allies for a national
day of action, June 3, to call Congress.
Tell them to stop secret trade deals and
oppose Fast Track.
JUNE 3, 2015 CALL CONGRESS TO STOP FAST TRACK 1-855-712-8441
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT WWW.NOFASTTRACK.COM.AFL-CIO