Unions Fear That Welfare-to-Work Programs Will Take Jobs, Lower Wages
Galvin, Kevin, THE JOURNAL RECORD
WASHINGTON -- A woman laid off from her county government job returns to the same security guard duties under New York's Work Experience Program at lower pay, with no benefits, no vacation.
After a hard-fought campaign to unionize janitors in Baltimore schools, organizers are dismayed to see the janitors replaced with people working off their public assistance checks.
With welfare reform set to push public aid recipients into the work force nationwide, union chiefs say there is evidence that workers in well-paying jobs could be displaced by subsidized employees, depressing wages. They also worry that people working off public assistance may not be protected from unfair labor practices, and that public sector jobs covered by union contracts may vanish as the administration of welfare is turned over to private entities. "The impact of welfare reform potentially extends to every workplace in America," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. At its winter meeting in Los Angeles, the AFL-CIO executive council announced the intention of its affiliates to organize "workfare workers" into unions and ensure they are covered by existing labor law. The welfare bill President Clinton signed into law last year ended the federal government's 61-year guarantee of assistance to needy families, imposed new work rules and time limits and gave states free rein to develop programs. Clinton wants $3.6 billion for state and local job-training grants and tax breaks to employers who hire long-term recipients. Employers would get a 50 percent credit for the first $10,000 a year in wages. The AFL-CIO leaders said the new welfare law is silent on whether those working under it would be entitled to the same protections guaranteed to other workers regarding safety, overtime and the right to organize. "Federal laws regulating employer behavior around wages, hours and conditions have not gone away just because we have a new welfare law," they said in a statement. "The AFL-CIO will fight against any erosion of employee protections for former welfare recipients placed in public or private workplaces." While there is broad labor support for the notion that everyone who can work should work, union chiefs were angered by the law's impact on children and immigrants. Now the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union say that organizing welfare recipients as they are moved into jobs will be a priority. …