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Kimberly Freeman Brown

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The Best and Worst Moments for Workers in 2011

Posted: 12/16/11 05:12 PM ET

What a year it's been for workers! From Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., on the football field and the factory floor, we've seen unprecedented attacks on working families from big corporations and their friends in elected office. But what the folks behind these attacks didn't anticipate was that their actions would ignite a movement -- that the worst moments for workers in 2011 might just be the beginning of a great political awakening for the 99 percent.

The Worst

  1. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker strips public employees of their collective bargaining rights -- Last spring, anti-worker legislators in Wisconsin rammed through a bill that strips the state's public employees of their right to collectively bargain. After initially using the state's fiscal challenges as the rationale for his bill, Gov. Walker publicly admitted that the collective bargaining repeal saved the state absolutely no money. This revelation affirmed that the nationwide attacks on public employees were solely designed to hurt workers and their unions -- not balance the budget.
  2. SB 5 passes in Ohio -- In early March, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 5 into law. The bill scaled back public employees' ability to bargain together for better workplace conditions and improved safety, marking a major victory for the corporate-backed lawmakers playing politics at the expense of the 99 percent.
  3. Income inequality soars to new heights -- In September, the Census Bureau reported that one in six Americans are living in poverty. Meanwhile, CEO pay has continued to skyrocket. The result? Income inequality that puts the United States on par with countries like Cameroon and Uganda. And recent studies show that the rise in inequality here in the U.S. is directly tied to declining union membership.
  4. Right-wing attacks on the NLRB endanger workers' rights -- Instead of creating jobs, GOP politicians in Congress spent the year launching more than 50 attacks on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the National Labor Relations Act -- the only recourse workers have when their rights to form unions and bargain collectively are violated. These cynical political games have not only threatened employee safeguards, but the unprecedented overreach by lawmakers has jeopardized the fundamental American principle of due process.
  5. Amazon workers face sweatshop conditions -- This fall, an investigative report revealed that employees at Amazon.com's Breinigsville, Pa., warehouse had been working on their hands and knees at a frantic pace in temperatures so high that the company kept ambulances parked outside. Amazon has yet to address the core problems at the warehouse, including brutal working speeds and overuse of temporary employees, for whom organizing for better working conditions is extremely difficult.

The Best

  1. The 99 percent fights back -- With the attacks on workers escalating from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., everyday Americans decided it was time to fight back. Beginning this fall, the Occupy Wall Street movement has succeeded in shifting the debate -- highlighting the income inequality that puts our whole economy at risk and bringing our nation's focus back to where it belongs: on the 99 percent.
  2. Ohio voters repeal SB 5 -- Voters took a stand for workers on Election Day -- striking down Ohio's controversial Senate Bill 5 by a stunning margin of 61 percent to 39 percent. The victory restored collective bargaining rights for public workers throughout the state, and reenergized the middle-class Americans fighting back against anti-worker initiatives nationwide.
  3. NLRB rules help protect workers' rights -- This summer, the NLRB issued a rule that requires employers to display a free poster advising employees of their workplace rights. And just this month, the Board voted to approve a resolution that will help ensure a fairer union election process for workers. In this upside down economy, even this modest progress for employees is good news.
  4. IKEA workers gain a voice on the job -- Despite IKEA's reputation as a top notch employer in Europe, workers at IKEA's Swedwood plant in Danville, Va., struggled for years with pay cuts, racial discrimination, and dangerous working conditions. But in late July, they voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the Machinists -- a landmark victory for workers and a testament to the continued need for balance in America's workplaces.
  5. NFL lockout ends -- The long-awaited end of the NFL lockout this July wasn't just good news for sports fans. For the tens of thousands of stadium workers and small businesses who depend on NFL football to make ends meet, the resolution of the lockout meant their jobs were safe. And for all of us, it was a powerful reminder of the benefits of workers standing together for respect and a voice on the job.

What do you think were the best and worst moments for workers this year?

 

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