Interfaith Worker Justice

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Wage Theft, Sexual Assault, And No Sick Leave: The Horrible Conditions Facing Poultry Workers

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John D. Simmons/The Charlotte Observer

by Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

Approximately 300,000 poultry workers make it possible for Americans to consume 1.3 billion chicken wings for big events like the Super Bowl and Thanksgiving. But many of those workers include people of color and immigrants who are often subject to wage discrepancies, discrimination, and poor working conditions, as a recent Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center (NWAWJC) report found.

Arkansas is the second largest U.S. state in broiler production. The demographics for Arkansas poultry workers include 33 percent Latinos, 17 percent African American, and six percent Asian, “with a large population of workers from the Marshall Islands,” the report stated. But foreign-born and non-white workers specifically report higher rates of direct discrimination on the job and often receive lower pay and fewer opportunities to advance into better jobs.

Poultry workers earned an average of $13.84 — above the minimum wage — but foreign-born workers were more likely to receive that pay through a payroll card system or through a combination of cash and check, rather than through the direct deposit that U.S.-born workers generally received. One out of five foreign-born workers were paid with a payroll card, compared to one out of ten U.S.-born workers. Since payroll cards include fees for withdrawal, they result in reduced overall take-home pay.

What’s more, the report found that almost 38 percent of all workers surveyed report that they’ve experienced pay “disappearing” on a payroll card. Almost two-thirds of workers experienced some form of illegal wage theft, such as deductions from worker’s pay for supplies, not receiving mandated overtime pay, or not being paid for all hours worked.

Overall, they also dealt with injuries at a higher rate than the average worker — two-thirds of cutters and half of all deboners and hangers reported being injured on the job. And almost 91 percent of workers surveyed indicated that they did not earn sick leave, with 62 percent reporting that they had to work while sick. Foreign-born workers were also five times more likely to receive no sick leave at all.

“It’s one of the most striking and problematic findings of this report that only nine percent of people have earned sick leave and that there’s not really an option of staying home and taking a pay cut,” Amber Moulton, a Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) researcher who helped to write the report, told ThinkProgress. “You’re compelled to come to work and that applies to foreign-born workers and U.S. citizens. It’s absolutely stark. People are just not granted benefits that uphold health and dignity.”

More than half of workers also said that they experienced discrimination and that when they reported the problems, they were subjected to harsher and more dangerous working conditions.

Jazmin Acosta, a Latino poultry worker, spoke out against the sexual harassment that she faced on the job at a recent rally to improve conditions in the poultry industry for workers. She said that she filed a claim about a coworker who flashed her and sexually harrassed her, but was told by a female manager that she was lying.

“Instead of seeing a solution, Manager called me and told me that she wanted to talk to me,” Acosta said, according to a transcript provided to ThinkProgress by the NWA Workers’ Justice Center. “At the office, she told me I was a problem in the company. She said that many supervisors had received a lot of claims about me. I asked which supervisors, I only complaint [sic] to one supervisor, but they [sic] way she would react towards me, yelling at me, making me feel inferior and intimidated, I didn’t want to file claims with her anymore.”

Read more from Think Progress.

Backers of $15 minimum wage plan to launch Minneapolis ballot campaign

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

m01229 / Flickr

From the Star Tribune:

By Erin Golden

Minneapolis residents may have another item to vote on at the polls this November: raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Members of the group 15 Now Minnesota said they’re tired of waiting for the Minneapolis City Council to act on calls for a higher minimum wage, so they’re taking the issue directly to voters.

Along with several other community and labor groups, they plan to launch their ballot measure campaign at a Feb. 27 rally and begin gathering the approximately 7,000 signatures they’ll need to get the issue on the November ballot.

The results of a city study on a wage hike won’t be available until summer, and some council members said in a Wednesday meeting that they’re not certain the city has the legal authority to raise the minimum wage.

But organizers with 15 Now said supporters want to build on momentum around a variety of social and workers’ issues, including local movements around sick-leave ordinances.

Plus, the group wants to act quickly so the topic can be on the ballot in a presidential election year — a time when more people show up to vote.

“We want to bring it to voters, to the people of Minneapolis and let them have their say on it,” said Kip Hedges, a 15 Now organizer.

As other large cities have raised their minimum wage — up to $15 in places like Seattle and San Francisco — activists have pressed local officials to do the same. They have pointed to the city’s significant racial disparities in income, education, housing and the workforce and said higher wages could provide a specific way to improve the lives of many people of color.

Minnesota’s minimum wage for workers at large businesses went up to $9 per hour last year and will rise to $9.50 in August. For workers at small businesses, the rate is $7.25 per hour and will rise to $7.75.

Research continues

The city has been researching the topic since at least 2014, when Council Member Alondra Cano said she would support a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said in early 2015 that she would not support a citywide wage increase, instead favoring hikes at the regional or state level. Some council members have expressed support for higher wages, but few have backed a specific dollar figure. In September, the council voted to set aside $150,000 for a study on the potential impact of a higher minimum wage in the city or the metro area.

The council voted Wednesday to authorize a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Howard University, Rutgers University and the Economic Policy Institute to complete the study this spring, but some council members said they remain uncertain about the city’s ability to make any changes.

Council President Barb Johnson and Council Member Blong Yang said they want a legal opinion from the city attorney, while Council Member Jacob Frey gave his own interpretation of state law: It doesn’t expressly prohibit cities from making wage ordinances, but it doesn’t definitively grant that right, either.

“The legality of a municipal minimum wage is presently gray,” he said. “I believe you could offer both sides relatively well.”

Others wanted a more specific answer. Council Member Lisa Goodman said she was surprised the council needed to make a formal request for a legal opinion from the city attorney and suggested that the lack of clarity could have to do with politics around the minimum-wage issue.

“It says, obviously, that those who don’t want it are afraid of what it might say,” she said.

Skipping the city

Hedges and fellow organizer Ginger Jentzen said that while the council’s reaction has been mixed, they’ve found widespread support from Minneapolis workers and residents, including some business owners. Jentzen said the city’s hiccups over sick leave and scheduling proposals have made it clear that supporters of higher wages should skip over the city to make progress.

“There’s pretty widespread frustration that this could be gummed up in a bureaucratic process,” she said.

Organizers with 15 Now said they intend to reach out to businesses concerned about hardships created by paying higher wages to share the stories of business owners in cities that already have boosted pay. They’ll also be heading to DFL caucuses to try to pass resolutions of support for the issue, and take the campaign to surrounding communities.

“On a certain level, we agree with Mayor Hodges that a regional approach is the way to go,” Hedges said. “But we’d like to see her join in the effort in Minneapolis and then take it to her counterparts in St. Paul.”

Read the full story from the Star Tribune

Schedule workers as you would have them schedule you

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

photosteve101 / Flickr

photosteve101 / Flickr

From The Seattle Times:

By Nick Hanauer

Imagine you own a small restaurant and you just hired a new server. She’s looking forward to starting, she insists, though she won’t tell you exactly when. But don’t worry, she says, she’ll call you every Sunday to give you her schedule for the coming week and will try to stick to that as much as possible.

Meanwhile, your bartender calls in to tell you that due to a drop in business on Tuesdays his service will no longer be needed those nights, while one of your cooks unexpectedly shows up a few hours early demanding an unscheduled double shift.

Now imagine all of your employees demanding this sort of “flexibility” — coming and going as fits their schedules, not yours, while providing little, if any, notice in advance.

You couldn’t possibly run a business like that!

Yet this is exactly what many businesses currently expect of their workers.

Existing scheduling laws are frankly appalling. Employers aren’t required to give any notice for changes in schedules, which make it impossible for employees to plan the details of their daily life — whether it’s child care, a dentist appointment or something as basic as the family dinner. Even worse, employees who can’t reliably count on regular hours can’t reliably plan a monthly budget.

A typical worker earning minimum wage might work anywhere from 25 to 38 hours a week — in Washington state, that’s the difference between $947 and $1,439 a month in pretax pay. Employers also may expect them to be “on call,” meaning workers won’t know if they have a shift until the day of, making it impossible to work a second job.

It’s hard to buy a car or sign a lease if you don’t know how much you’ll be earning from week to week, let alone month to month. It’s impossible to invest in yourself by going back to college part time if you never know when you might be forced to choose between your class and your job.

Why do employers take their workers for granted like this? To be perfectly honest, it’s because we can, and because it makes our lives easier and our short-term profits higher. So why not demand complete control over a worker’s schedule — including off hours in the case of on-call shifts — if there are no laws against it?

This is why I’m glad Seattle City Council members Lorena González and Lisa Herbold are starting the conversation on secure scheduling policy. Seattle should lead the way on secure scheduling, the same way the city led on the $15 minimum wage. Businesses won’t adopt secure scheduling on their own, even though it’s good for them — don’t be mistaken, it is. Smart, effective scheduling laws make for more productive workers and more engaged consumers, benefiting businesses at every level.

When workers are well-rested, they’re better employees. When they can enjoy full lives, they’re happier people, better neighbors and more active members of their communities. When they have predictable schedules, they can plan for expenses and even save up for larger purchases. They can eat family meals in restaurants and go to movies. They can enjoy the trappings of modern life without worrying that they’ll be called away for a last-minute shift for which they’ll barely be compensated.

When more consumers are able to spend more money, businesses profit. That’s how the economy works.

As business owners, we would never accept these kinds of working conditions for ourselves — so why are we so willing to force them on workers? We must apply the Golden Rule to scheduling: Schedule others as you would have them schedule you.

Read the full article from The Seattle Times.

Without Social Security numbers, illegal immigrants face unfair eviction

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

From The Washington Post:

By Antonio Olivo

The owners of a Northern Virginia mobile-home park are trying to evict about 15 residents who don’t have Social Security numbers and are in the country illegally, an effort that attorneys for the families say violates federal and state fair housing laws.

The battles unfolding at individual court hearings hinge on whether the mobile-home park’s owners can demand Social Security numbers as proof of identity. The cases illustrate the fragile foothold that low-wage workers, particularly immigrants, have in affluent Northern Virginia.

Lawyers with the Legal Aid Justice Center are fighting the eviction proceedings in Fairfax County’s General District Court, arguing that Waples Mobile Home Park is discriminating against the residents by refusing to accept as proof of identity tax identification numbers that the Internal Revenue Service provides to non-U.S. citizens working in the country.

Waples is owned by a limited partnership headed by Albert J. Dwoskin, who did not return calls for comment. Dwoskin’s property management company — A.J. Dwoskin & Associates — said it insists on Social Security numbers from all new tenants as a way to conduct background checks on those residents.

“Everyone has to have an ID, a Social Security card and provide pay stubs so they can qualify to live here,” said Josephine Giambanco, who manages the Waples site. “We ask that for everybody. Everyone who is over the age of 18 years old.”

Ivy Finkenstadt, a Legal Aid Justice Center lawyer representing the families, argued that her clients are being targeted because of their immigration status. Under Virginia’s landlord-tenant law, landlords have the option of accepting the IRS tax identification numbers as proof of identity for new renters, which Finkenstadt said Waples has previously done for some residents. The tax ID numbers also can be used for background checks, but not as effectively as Social Security numbers.

For the families, the eviction proceedings threaten a rare source of affordable living in a region where housing within the budgets of low-income immigrants often means cramped, overcrowded apartments or illegally converted basements.

Dagoberto and Rosie Reyes said they jumped at the chance to move out of an Annandale apartment they shared with several other tenants and into Waples three years ago, after purchasing a mobile home for $25,000. The mobile-home park, behind a shopping plaza off Lee Highway, is close to both their jobs; Dagoberto Reyes works as a house painter, and Rosie Reyes cleans houses.

“We saved and saved,” Rosie Reyes said, about the Salvadoran couple’s effort to buy their first home. “I worked three jobs at one point. My husband worked two. When I cleaned houses, I took my son with me, so we didn’t have to pay for a babysitter.

The couple has received an eviction notice and is trying to figure out where to move next.

Waples is one of a handful of mobile-home parks in the Washington area that date to the middle of last century and increasingly are occupied by immigrants with low income. There is a tot lot for kids, a small soccer field and a picnic area. Monthly utilities and usage fees are about $900.

“We all get along pretty good,” said Brad Fraser, who has lived there for seven years and has seen many Latinos move in.

In recent years, some immigrant families have doubled up inside the mobile homes, which include living rooms, kitchenettes and up to three bedrooms. Others took over mobile homes that had been bought and registered by friends or relatives, assuming responsibility for the monthly fees.

Last fall, the site’s property managers began asking residents who were not registered with the management office to provide Social Security numbers — a problem for those who are not U.S. citizens. Soon after, Waples managers sent eviction notices.

“The fact that the company changed what it would accept has an impact on who can rent there, and that effect is discriminatory,” said Finkenstadt, the Legal Aid lawyer.

Giambanco, the property manager, declined to comment on previous policies, and a Waples attorney did not return calls for comment.

Elba Navarro, who has lived at Waples with her husband and three children for 10 years, said the policy change has spread anxiety through a once-calm community.

“They told us ‘If you don’t have a Social, you’ll have to leave,’ ” said Navarro, whose household includes a mixture of family members with legal immigration status and others without. “It caused a lot of fear. One had to hide the clothes of whoever wasn’t registered.”

Michelle Krocker, director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, said low-wage workers like those at Waples have few other options in a county where the median monthly rent is about $1,600, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It’s close to work, and it’s all they can afford,” Krocker said. “As a local economy, we need those workers to be here.”

Maria Gonzalez, who is one of the people being targeted for eviction, said she worries about finding a new home close to her job as a housekeeper for a nearby hotel, currently a five-minute commute away.

“It’s very difficult,” she said.

Several Waples residents targeted for eviction said they have not yet paid off what they owe on their mobile homes. At the same time, many are resigned to leaving.

“We’d like at least enough time for the children to be out of school,” Guery Escobar said, sitting with a group of neighbors inside his narrow living room.

Read the full article from The Washington Post.

Pope: Live your faith during Lent, perform works of mercy

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

by Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Lent is a time of conversion and a time to deepen one's faith, demonstrating and sharing it through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Pope Francis said.

"Faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit," the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 10 for Latin-rite Catholics.

Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, welcoming strangers, offering instruction, giving comfort -- "on such things will we be judged," the pope wrote in the message, which was released at the Vatican Jan. 26.

Particularly during the Year of Mercy, he said, Catholics are called to recognize their own need for God's mercy, the greatness of God's love seen in the death and resurrection of Christ and the obligation to assist others by communicating God's love and mercy through words and deeds.

"The root of all sin" is thinking that one is god, something often expressed in a total preoccupation for accumulating money and power, the pope wrote. And just as individuals can be tempted to think they have no need of God, social and political systems can run the same risk, ignoring both God and the real needs of human beings.

"Love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness," Pope Francis wrote. It is the only response to the longings "that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches."

"The danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor," he said, "the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is hell."

But through acts of mercy and charity, "by touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering," he wrote, "sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need."

"In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited," he wrote. "In the spiritual works of mercy -- counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer -- we touch more directly our own sinfulness."

In the Christian life, Pope Francis said, "the corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated."

Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, president of Caritas Italy and head of the archdiocese that includes the Italian island of Lampedusa, told reporters at a Vatican news conference that the pope's message, like the Bible, "does not stop simply at reaffirming that God is merciful, but clearly indicates that his children must be merciful, too, by living a greater love, especially by taking care of the little ones, the poor and defenseless."

Read more from Catholic News Service.


Controversial WV Legislation Tied to Shadowy Billionaires' Network

2 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Rick Smith/Flickr

by Dan Heyman

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The right-to-work bill and prevailing-wage repeal just passed by the Legislature have ties to Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch and their shadowy network, watchdogs say.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the bills were based on model legislation from the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD, says ALEC is part of a national network of funders and front groups carefully designed to promote a pro-corporate agenda.

"The Kochs playing a ventriloquist role through these different organizations," says Graves. "Cookie-cutter ALEC bills, cookie-cutter talking points, ad campaigns by Americans for Prosperity and willing, pliable politicians who want to please these billionaires."

CMD says Senate President Bill Cole is a member of ALEC. The Charleston Gazette reported he attended what Graves called "Koch Fest," an annual closed-to-the-public donors retreat at a resort in Palm Springs, California. Cole's office said he attended in his "official capacity" and denied it was a "political event."

Graves says the Kochs have promised to raise and spend nearly a billion dollars in this election cycle. Cole says he did not collect any donations for his campaign for governor while at the Palm Springs event. But Graves says hundreds of billionaires and multi-millionaires attend the donor's retreat.

"They don't necessarily write the check at that meeting, but they're the connections," she says. "This is a network, and that produces big dividends. This is really a network where you're plugged into future funders of your campaign."

Cole's office says he did tell the donors in Palm Springs he was working to make West Virginia the 26th right-to-work state. According to the National Journal, Koch organizations such as Americans for Prosperity have supported that effort with expert testimony, advertising and door knocking and phone banking, like you might see during an election. Graves says they haven't said how much they have spent.

Read more from Public News Service - WV.

This Bill Would Force Large Corporations To Pay a Fine if They Don’t Pay Workers a Living Wage

1 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Video courtesy of CAN TV

by Justyna Bicz

A group of Chicago-area progressive groups and unions are backing a bill that would punish large companies who don’t pay their workers a living wage.

The Responsible Business Act would charge corporations who employ more than 750 Cook County workers at less than $15 per hour fees for paying what advocates call poverty-level wages. Since it was introduced in October last year, the act has gained the support of unions and grassroots organizations fighting for economic justice.

Two actions in support of the proposed Responsible Business Act (RBA) took place in Cook County on Monday. In Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside, or ONE Northside, led a teach-in at their offices and canvassed outside of corporate stores. Supporters of the RBA including IIRON and the Reclaim Campaign held an action at a Walmart store in suburban Bedford Park, just outside the city limits.

The RBA is a county-level act and is sponsored by Commissioner Robert Steele of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. It currently has three co-sponsors: Joan Patricia Murphy, Luis Arroyo, Jr. and Jerry Butler; organizers say they also have two commitments to vote “yes” from Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Larry Suffredin. Three more commissioners need to support the act in order for it to pass through the 17-member board. Monday's actions called on 11th District Commissioner John Daley and 10th District Commissioner Bridget Gainer to back the bill.

At the canvassing event organized by ONE Northside, supporters of the RBA called for Gainer to co-sponsor the proposal. They engaged pedestrians outside of Target, Starbucks and McDonald’s—all corporations that would potentially be affected by the RBA.

"The CEOs of these big corporations continue to make massive profits while the workers, who are responsible for the functioning of the corporations, are forced to rely on public services to survive off their poverty wages,” said Eugene Lim, a member of the group's Workers' Rights Team.

Commissioner Gainer did not respond to a request for comment.

The Responsible Business Act would give corporations with over 750 employees a choice: either raise their employees' wages to a living wage—determined by Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ivan Samstein at $14.57 per hour without benefits and $11.66 per hour with benefits—or pay a $750 fee for each dollar paid below the hourly living wage per employee.

For example, a corporation where 100 workers earn $13.57 per hour (one dollar below the living wage of $14.57 per hour) would have the choice of raising their hourly wage by $1 for each worker, or paying a fee of $75,000 ($1 times 100 workers, times the $750 fine). This fee is designed to supplement the housing and childcare assistance, Medicaid costs and other services out of reach for workers earning poverty wages. The fees would be earmarked specifically for public assistance programs and distributed by the county.

Seventy-five percent of the revenue would be placed into a newly established Family Sustainability Fund, 20 percent would go to pre-existing health care spending and the remainder would be spent on administrative costs. A nine-person commission would advise the Cook County Board of Commissioners on allocation of the collected funds.

Read the full article from In These Times

How Michigan worker centers and churches are making sure help reaches Flint’s immigrant communities

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

You can support the efforts of these volunteers by donating here

Everyone in Michigan and across the country was stunned to learn about the water crisis in Flint, caused by irresponsible penny-pinching by the state’s governor and his unelected city-manager.

Michiganders know that this isn’t the first time that the people of Flint have been the victims of a broken economy and inept government management. But the poisoning of the city’s water, the subsequent cover-up by the governor takes that suffering to a new low.

To make matters worse, state and federal assistance has failed to reach too many Flint families, compounding the crisis.

Volunteer leaders with The Micah Center, a Grand Rapids worker center with a strong tradition of interfaith values and affiliated with Interfaith Worker Justice, has seen the inadequacy of the government response firsthand. 

In January, The Micah Center teamed up with Our Lady of Guadalupe church, the Workers Center of Western Michigan and others to travel to Flint to offer material support and bear witness to the crisis. What the volunteer team saw was disheartening at best.

They saw the State and National Guard demanding identification in exchange for fresh water.

They saw law enforcement going door-to-door in immigrant communities, offering water and filters with a knock on the door and the shout of “Police!,” perhaps unaware how similar that sounds to the recent Immigration and Custom Enforcement raids that have been terrorizing undocumented people across the nation in recent months.

They saw Flint residents who had not yet been educated about the poisonous water or how to get medical attention after exposure to the water.

The volunteers from The Micah Center and their partners have organized their own relief to pick up where the state and federal response had fallen short.

They called on elected officials representing Flint to change the identification-for-water policy. Within a week, water distribution centers were no longer requiring an ID card.

They are canvassing immigrant communities led by native Spanish-speakers to counsel families about how to get help and assure them that law enforcement providing water and filters would not detain or deport anybody.

They are printing multi-lingual literature for residents to learn how to get medical attention if they are exposed to the lead-filled water.

Just two hours away from Flint by car, worker centers like The Micah Center and their volunteer partners are well-positioned to help during crises like the water poisoning in Flint.

But they could use all the support they can get. It costs money to organize water drives, to print educational literature, and to pay for gas to make the trip to Flint.

You can support the efforts of these volunteers by donating here.

100% of donations go directly to helping Flint and will be administered locally by The Micah Center.

Interfaith Worker Justice applauds The Micah Center, the Workers Center of West Michigan, Our Lady of Guadalupe church and all those who have answered the call to action to help their neighbors in Flint during this time of crisis.

The Fight for 15 in Iowa

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Anna Waters/Flickr

by Michelle Chen

Iowa is known for cornfields and state fairs, but the provincial charm got upturned last Friday as workers marched through Des Moines ahead of the caucus, when presidential hopefuls will test their economic talking points.

The fast-food, home-care, and childcare workers protesting had talking points of their own, as they staged Iowa’s first-ever fast-food strike day to demand, once again, $15 and hour and the right to form a union. Local community and labor groups have joined a wave of organizing, supported by the SEIU, that originated in New York over three years ago and has since spread to various low-wage sectors, and hundreds of cities nationwide and abroad. The movement, which has spanned roughly the length of the current presidential term, has introduced a social-justice policy platform for the 2016 race. On top of a $15 hourly wage and a union, campaigners demand accessible and affordable childcare, quality long-term home care, and action on two broader issues that affect low-income communities: addressing anti-black racism and pushing for immigration reform.

Fundamentally, workers just want a dignified livelihood. Angelica Serrano, a Mexican-American immigrant in Des Moines who earns just $9.90 an hour, after working at McDonald’s for 17 years, wrote in a Des Moines Register commentary:

I am nervous to walk off the job, but it is also empowering to join with other underpaid workers who are coming together this year to finally make a change…and for the first time I feel like my voice matters. Since moving to the U.S., I’ve felt so invisible that I never bothered to vote in any election.

Now Serrano and her fellow protesters are becoming visible on the national stage. According to the campaign, the roughly 733,000 workers earning less than $15 an hour in Iowa, or nearly half the workforce, could form a significant voting bloc. Based on turnout estimates from a National Employment Law Project survey, the campaign estimates more than 480,000 of those low-income Iowans would be more likely to vote, or would register to vote, if there were a candidate who advocated a $15 minimum wage. The same survey also found that nearly three-quarters of sub-$15 workers supported the demand of a $15 hourly wage and a union.

Certainly, just turning out to vote for a candidate backing a $15 wage won’t necessarily win these workers anything, but the findings suggest a distinct feedback loop in the politics of inequality since 2011, as campaigns like theFight for 15, Black Lives Matter, and the climate-justice movement have colored the “mainstream” political conversation through street protests, social media, and targeted civil disobedience. It’s true that many electoral-platform promises will likely evaporate after inauguration day (the Democrats have incorporated the $15 base wage into their platform but face stiff opposition in Congress)—the numerous cities that have enacted or moved toward a $15 minimum-wage standard shows that poor people’s voices are penetrating policy circles local and national.

In Des Moines, according to MIT’s Living Wage calculator, a single parent raising one child requires over $21 per hour. Iowa Policy Project reports that wages have stagnated since the recession, and about three-quarters of Iowa workers earn low incomes (less than 200 percent of the poverty line).

“What I’ve heard over and over again, and today I heard the same story, is that ‘I had a good job before, where I was making $10 an hour, but now I’m at Wendy’s and I’m making $8 an hour,’” says Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, an organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, one of the groups coordinating the rallies. While workers “felt at least a little bit more secure previously,” after sliding into low-wage sectors, “they end up being there for years and years and still making $8, $9 an hour.” As the movement spreads across Iowa, she envisions workers “constantly talking to their other counterparts at work and becoming organizers themselves and really taking this on and just driving it. Because it’s really their movement.”

Read the full article from The Nation.

Organizers support city anti-wage theft proposal

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

 by Fatima Hussein

Cincinnati City Council is one step closer to enacting an ordinance on stopping wage theft on economic development projects supported by the city.

Six members of  City Council voted Monday to support a measure that would apply to any developer that gets a financial incentive (in tax incentives, grants or loans) from the city worth more than $25,000.

"Treating people like slaves is wrong," said Councilman Christopher Smitherman. "This is so egregious."

Wage theft occurs when employer refusing to pay workers money that they are owed by withholding pay, tips or overtime.

Vice Mayor David Mann submitted the ordinance last week and dozens of people wearing green armbands filled Council Chambers Monday in support of the ordinance.

Several workers who spoke through a translator testified about instances in Cincinnati where they were cheated out of earnings by local employers.

"It is an epidemic across the country. affecting every many industries," said Manuel Perez, with the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.

Read the full article from Cincinnati Enquirer.