Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NYC LABOR OFFICIAL SAYS UNIONS HAVE TO HELP NON-UNION WORKERS

STEVEN GREENHOUSE, NEW YORK TIMES - Ed Ott, the executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council, an umbrella group for the city's labor unions, has an unexpected and unnerving warning for New York's more than one million union members. He warns that their wages and living standards will be threatened unless the city's unions do far more to lift the incomes and living standards of the city's nonunion working poor, including restaurant workers, supermarket cashiers and taxi drivers. . .

He said that many low-income workers who receive no paid vacation or sick days were bound to ask why many municipal workers are entitled to 40 days off per year - combining vacation days, personal days and sick days - in their first year on the job. . .

Mr. Ott is glad that many union members - for instance, construction workers, telephone workers and teachers - have achieved middle-class status. But he voiced frustration that many unions showed little concern about lifting the status of low-wage nonunion workers. He made his remarks at a time when the number of nonunion workers has soared in traditionally union- dominated industries like construction and hotels. Mr. Ott sees two working classes in New York: a unionized one that is doing well and a nonunion one that is struggling to get by. . .

Mr. Ott took the unusual step of inviting the Taxi Workers Alliance, a group of several thousand nonunion immigrant taxi drivers, to join the Central Labor Council. In his view, unions need to embrace immigrant workers and work closely with their advocacy groups. The labor council is working with Domestic Workers United to help enact legislation in Albany to improve wages and benefits for nannies and housekeepers. The labor council is also trying to make common cause with the Freelancers Union, a Brooklyn-based group that is seeking to provide affordable health and disability benefits to tens of thousands of freelancers and independent contractors.

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