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The True Meaning of Labor Day

DSC_0180Today, The Hill published an Op-Ed by UFCW International President Marc Perrone and Executive Vice President Esther Lopez. In it, they remind us all the Labor Day isn’t just about celebrating the end of summer and cooking out. It’s a day to celebrate all hard-working men and women in America, including those who have been left out, thanks to our broken immigration system. Read the full op-ed below:

While many Americans look at Labor Day as the last weekend of summer and another opportunity to sit back and enjoy a barbeque with friends and family—the holiday was created to celebrate the accomplishments of hard-working men and women.

Labor Day is about celebrating the sacrifices working people have made to the shared prosperity of this country. It’s about valuing people, regardless of where they were born, for their work and the contributions they make to the economic well-being of our great country.

This Labor Day, we must challenge the political status quo that has left too many hard-working men and women to struggle alone in the shadows.

Nowhere has the failure of the status quo been more evident than in the struggle fix our country’s broken immigration system. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, over 8 million of which are active in the workforce. We’re talking about workers, parents, community leaders, friends and neighbors whose hard work and daily contributions to our economy merit full participation in our society.

While an overwhelming majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, our national dialogue continues to be hijacked by endless fearmongering and the antics of presidential campaigns jockeying for 2016.

Case in point, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s eccentric soundbites have not only dominated the conversation, they have further divided and obfuscated the serious debate over our country’s immigration crisis. Along with Mr. Trump’s unrealistic campaign promise to build a wall along our 2,000-mile long southern border, his calls for overturning the 14th amendment and constitutional right of birthright citizenship are radical and dangerous.

Immigration reform will clearly be a key issue as we head into the 2016 presidential elections. Both parties have a responsibility to engage in a substantive debate about how we can actually fix a broken immigration system that penalizes workers and families. Too much is at stake to let this important issue be driven by extreme proposals and divisive rhetoric.

All politicians, those in office and those running for office, need to understand that the inaction that has pervaded our political system is unacceptable. Inaction is not an option for millions of hard-working men and women who aspire to be Americans.

Above all, we as a country cannot afford to continue down a path that enables and permits employers to exploit all workers by cutting wages, lowering benefits, and punishing those who dare to speak out for a better life.

We would hope that every candidate acknowledges the fact that if you live and work hard in America, if you’re contributing to the prosperity of this nation, you should have the opportunity to become an American.

This Labor Day, let’s honor and respect the work of all hard-working people.

For the sake of a better America we all must believe in, let’s put divisive partisan politics aside and challenge our 2016 candidates to do what is right for the country, and not themselves.

Perrone is the president of the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. López is executive vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

UFCW Immigration Work will be Honored in September

imm awardThe UFCW’s immigration programs will be honored by the Center for Community Change at its annual “Change Champion Awards” ceremony on September 17 in Washington, D.C.

Under the leadership of UFCW International President Marc Perrone and UFCW Executive Vice President Esther López, the UFCW is proud to lead the fight for immigration reform through two signature immigration programs which reach all levels of the union and our nation.

The first, known as Union Citizenship Action Network (UCAN), provides members a platform to learn from seasoned immigrants’ rights advocates about the critical skills and tools needed to go through the naturalization process and become U.S. citizens. The second program is designed to help UFCW members get ready for Deferred Action for Parent Arrivals (DAPA).

Representing workers from all over the globe, the UFCW has seen the devastation caused by the broken immigration system in the United States. From ICE raids in meatpacking plants, to the endless threat of deportation, members and immigrant communities across the United States have been failed by the inaction of elected officials. Their deafening silence in the face of exploitative labor practices that have driven down wages, benefits, and the working conditions of all workers only serves to perpetuate a crisis that continues to grow.

Congress has yet to pass legislation, but the UFCW is not sitting back and waiting for politicians to act. Local unions are hosting workshops to help members determine whether they qualify, gather necessary documentation, prescreen their applications, and answer important legal questions. The UFCW is committed to ensuring that when a legal ruling on DAPA is finally rendered, UFCW members will either be ready to file for it or fight for it.

The UFCW is proud to accept this award and is committed to fighting for the rights of all hard-working men and women.

The Voting Rights Act at 50: Progress, Then Peril

via SEIU

via SEIU

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the monumental Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act ensured that no one would be barred from the right to vote based on the color of their skin. The right to vote is a civil right. Americans vote to elect people we believe will protect our rights and fight for what we believe in. For working Americans, who we elect impacts us workers and members of the middle class. No one, of any race, should be unfairly be kept from making their voice heard at the polls. Voting is how many of us fight against Right-to-Work and other legislation that sets workers back. It’s how we advocate for paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, and a host of other policies that will lift workers up and help us provide a decent living for our families. This largely helped Black Americans to exercise the right to vote, especially in the South, where they faced obscure and discriminatory tests when attempting to register to vote.

Nine years before the VRA was signed, only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered, in large part due to unfair literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics.

The passage of the VRA also required seven states “with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote.”

President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the bill into law, called it “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.” This proved to be a true proclamation–by 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, registration among black southerners had increased substantially, to 62 percent.

The VRA also enabled progressive legislators working to advance civil rights to build upon what the VRA promised:

not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

But since the historic election in 2008, conservative legislators have used the success of the VRA to advocate for the dismantling of several key pieces of it. Claiming “voter fraud” as their battle cry, Republicans who gained control in 11 state legislatures in 2010 took away early voting, “same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places.”

Then, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Shelby County v. Holder to directly countermand “the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on.”

But the VRA can’t continue to “do its job” if its power continues to be chipped away. It’s imperative that we restore it. We cannot “move on” when racial hatred and injustice is still evident in cities across our country. Evidence that the black vote is still being suppressed is plentiful:

In her dissent of Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that, while studying the VRA’s reauthorization in 2006, “Congress found there were more D.O.J. objections between 1982 and 2004 (626) than there were between 1965 and the 1982 reauthorization (490).” She noted that in a majority of those objections, the Justice Department cited “calculated decisions to keep minority voters from fully participating in the political process.”

Thanks to the Shelby decision, North Carolina was able to pass a bill “that cut the state’s early-voting period nearly in half, taking away one of the two Sundays when black churches run highly effective ‘souls to the polls’ voting drives. It ended same-day registration and invalidated student IDs for voting.”

By cutting provisions of voting laws that protect voters from being disenfranchised, and enacting sections that unfairly affect the poor or minorities, our legislators are doing a disservice to America.

But there are people fighting back against intrusions on our voting rights. Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. regularly leads protesters joined by progressive lawmakers and familiar faces of the civil rights movement at Moral Monday events, speaking out against the attacks on the VRA. He has referred to the time since the Shelby decision as “our Selma”—adding that on the day of the decision, June 26, 2013, “we had less voting rights than they had on August 6, 1965.”

Reverend Barber and his congregation of supporters in the south and beyond continue to mobilize people who won’t back down threats to the VRA and all of its protections that ensure black, Latino, and people of races can exercise their right to vote. As union members and workers, we must do the same.