Janel Bailey

My nails, self-care and worker justice

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My mother taught me about self-care from a young age. She explained that I would likely spend a lot of my time as a woman caring for others, and that it really was no one else’s job to take of me. She always looked sharp, especially for work- where it was of the utmost importance to be well put together. I’ve spent a lot of my time traveling and talking to people for a living, and they’ve spent a lot of time looking at my hands, and by extension, my nails!

I love to get my nails done, not only for the self-care aspect, but because I love art, and I love supporting skilled, women workers. I’ve found a shop near my home in Chicago with women who are technicians and really talented artists. They know their craft well: the chemicals they work with, how to sculpt, and how to paint. When I leave town, I’m proud to represent Chicago and I’m honored to wear these nails as canvasses for their art.

I’m admittedly partial to some nail technicians over the others. It’s hard not to develop a significant relationship with a woman who holds your hand and talks to you for an hour or so regularly. I talk to my nail tech about everything: city politics, her daughter, our love lives, my job, and of course, her job. I asked her once about adding some yellow paint to a design she was doing, and spoken like a true artist, she told me she couldn’t use yellow, because she “couldn’t see the beauty in it.”

One day she talked about her breathing, and told me about how she’d gone to the doctor, and he told her that she had little cuts in her nose from inhaling all of the dust from filing nails all the time. She elaborated on the effects of the fumes of her body as well. I asked her one day why neither she, nor any of her co-workers wore masks at work. She shrugged and admitted that it seemed like a good idea, but didn’t seem realistic for them.

While I worry about the health of my nail tech, I know from observing her conditions and having been in other nail shops around the country, that her conditions are relatively good. The recent New York Times articles have really highlighted the need for safer working conditions and humane pay for the workers, who are mostly women, at nail shops.

So likely consumed with capitalist guilt after reading that article, what are we to do? I wish I knew fix-it-all answer, but I don’t, and no one else has come forth with that answer either. A few things are clear though:

  • If you do already, continue to go get your nails done! Every time you spend a dollar, you're helping to create jobs. We want to improve industries that employ low wage workers/overwhelmingly women of color, not put them out of business. We need these jobs to stay, and we need them to be good jobs with decent wages and safe conditions.
  • When you do treat yourself to a manicure, start a conversation with your nail tech. I see so many people in the nail shop letting another person wash their feet while they don’t speak to them at all. If they are open to it, learn about why they do or don't take safety precautions at work, and see if/how you can support.
  • Tip like you’ve got some sense. If it’s evident that the skilled worker sitting across from you isn’t fairly compensated for a job well done, you have some hand in that. If 20% of your manicure is only $2, maybe you need to tip a bit more.

Not Lovin' it, but not surprised

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For more than two years, fast-food workers have been calling on corporations like McDonald's to pay $15 an hour and stop retaliating against workers who stand up collectively. Yesterday McDonald's announced an inadequate raise for SOME (about 10 percent of) workers at its company-owned stores. The move comes just one day after workers announced they'd strike on April 15. The corporation's tiny raise really was a joke. We're not lovin' it. Workers need what they've been calling for since the beginning: $15 an hour.

But because everything old is new, many people weren’t surprised to see McDonald’s toss a few coins around to try and appease enough of their employees to slow the momentum they’ve built leading up to April 15. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book to offer chump change, allegedly from the kindness of your heart, as workers are getting together and taking themselves seriously. I actually hesitated to share the announcement seeing as it was so expected, and it came out, of all days, on April Fools Day.  o_O

It actually gives me hope that McDonald’s is following the choreography for a “typical boss fight”, because it means that we will win. Many workers and organizers have seen the dance before: we talk to each other, they talk to us individually, to scare us and pick us apart. We act together, they try to isolate our leaders. Just before we win, they make a last ditch effort to buy some of us off. The steps stay the same, no matter who is doing the dance, be it McDonald’s, Walmart, Target, etc. I’m excited to join fast wood workers who are taking the lead all across the country on April 15

You can get connected in your community. Click here to join a April 15 action!

Why I'm Fasting from Fast Food

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I called a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he asked me how work was going. I told him it felt ambitious, we were gearing up to ask folks across the country to pledge to Fast from Fast Food in support of fast food workers who were taking big risks to stand up for their rights at work.

Knowing I'm an avid lover of Wendy's and everything fried, he asked, "Whoa, are you gonna do that too?"

I half-heartedly said, "I guess, it'd be really awkward to ask a bunch of other people to do it, and then they catch me sitting in McDonald's one day during the fast."

As we spoke with others about the fast (how to make it happen, how to include everyone we could, and most importantly why we should even attempt it) it became increasingly obvious that it made sense for me to join the fast. Why would I not join an action to draw attention to the bold moves fast food workers are making?

I spent a couple days last week in Atlanta, meeting with fast food workers who were a part of the Fight for $15 National Organizing committee. We listened to folks talk about the disrespect they endured at work, and how they were treated when they called it out. I reflected on my own days in retail, being intimidated from talking to other unionized workers at one job, and being unjustly fired from another. Most of the workers on the committee were regular folks like me (except one who is a low-key superstar, and took the mic later in the meeting) who were easy to connect with.

Although I casually expressed this in 140 or so characters via Twitter, it is my genuine belief that it doesn't take much for me to give up my beloved Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers for a little while. Especially given that these leaders are risking their livelihoods when they talk to their co-workers, sign petitions, and walk out on strike. The organizing committee spends hours after work talking on conference calls, planning at strategy meetings, going out talking to other workers, and speaking in public spaces...and then they head back to their regular jobs and continue to face their managers each day.

They've seen other fast food workers removed from the schedule or get their hours reduced, and even facing that threat and knowing what it could mean for them at home, they still fight. They take these risks not only for themselves and their families, but for an entire industry of people who are constantly disrespected at their jobs. Bearing this in mind, I'll proudly be forgoing my post-meal frosty for the next 40 days.

Network Visits D.C. to Connect, Learn and Advocate

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Last week, affiliates from IWJ's worker center network came from all across the country and met in D.C. (we actually stayed up in Bethesda, M.D. at a beautiful retreat facility) for an organizing and capacity-building training and worker advocacy day on the Hill.

Overall, we had a great time. We gathered about 20 worker-leaders and organizers from the network to discuss big ideas like "leadership development" and fundraising. Together we shared more specific and personal experiences about the work we do back home. We talked about our history, the lies our teachers told us and about our movement history that wasn't even in the curriculum.

One of the best things about being a part of a large national network is—of course—being connected across the country! During the training, everyone bonded quickly. Between old friends and new ones, we all made connections (even across language barriers with the help of some fabulous interpreters)! Connections outside the training room reminded us how small the world truly is (we ran into Tim Beaty at the Teamsters, who's helping with Kim's big event in December).

Up on the Hill, we got what one Congressman's staffer jokingly referred to as the "real D.C. experience," which is running around the Hill, rushing to meet with members of Congress wherever we could...even in the hallway!

I felt very fortunate to spend those few days in the company of such fearless, talented leaders and organizers. At the end of our final training session, we each shared some things we'd learned, felt and committed to do once we went home. I'm excited to mobilize as many allies as possible to support the awesome worker centers in the network as they shape their national fight against wage theft, protecting payroll choices and securing Paystubs for All!

Love to eat and support workers? There’s an app for that.

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Two of my favorite things to do are eating and standing with other working people. So naturally, when I heard about the Just Dining app, I had to check it out.

The app comes behind the print guide, “JUST DINING: A Guide to Restaurant Employment Standards in Downtown Madison,”  which is a project of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin and Workers’ Rights Center of Madison. The print guide details the conditions for workers in the restaurant industry--workers who are mostly older than 20 and have spent years working in the industry, yet still struggle with poverty wages and inconsistent schedules. As someone who has never worked in the restaurant industry, but cares about the folks who make it possible for me to greaze to my heart’s content on the weekend, the print guide seems like a good 101 primer on restaurant worker issues.

Given that you probably won’t have the Just Dining print guide in your pocket next time you’re hungry in Madison, the app is the next best thing. It’s easy for smartphone users to go to the Just Dining app and check out the map or search by name for nearby restaurants. The app uses a simple rating system based on six or seven stars, and it breaks down where business pass or fail on several important criteria: health insurance availability, non-tipped employees starting at $8.75/hr or more, tipped employees starting at $3.62 or more, paid sick days, paid time off, written records (of personnel policies and tracking hours), and even retirement savings.

As the cherry on top, the Just Dining app is also free in the iPhone app store. If you have friends in the Madison area, who are looking for work in a restaurant or looking for a more ethical dining experience, please spread the word!